Well, yes, we humans come wired with complex emotional systems. While there is no consensus on a scientific definition of emotions, the people at Merriam-Webster affirm that they are "...a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body" (click here for the full explanation). I know. That's what I thought too. Harriet told me they were our feelings and that's the deal for me. The experts down the hall in the neuroscience or psychology departments debate further how many emotions there are, whether the ones listed are primary emotions or secondary, and how to deal with them when they overcome us. All I know is that at times I'm happy, sad, mad, glad, bad, rad, or had. The emotional whirlwind of life.
Anger is an emotion. For me it's simple---a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility. It's the "mad" mentioned in the previous paragraph, an emotion that quickens the breath, activates the synapses, raises the pulse, equips the verbal artillery, and, at times, clinches the fists. Like it or not, anger is our automatic response to provocation. Even more, it's not always bad. Sometimes anger ushers us to the turbulent hallways of problem solving, settling disputes, calming relationships, and repairing disorder. Anger lights our fires. But, not always in destructive ways. When we are angry, we're primed for relief. And, that has a redemptive element too. Anger awakens us and give us the righteous indignation to find solutions.
Scripture addresses the norms and abuses of anger. Moses was angry (Leviticus 10: 16; Numbers 16: 15); King David was angry (2 Samuel 6: 8); Naaman was angry (2 Kings 5: 11); God is portrayed as being angry (Deuteronomy 3: 26; 1 Kings 11: 9); Jonah was angry (Jonah 4:1); and even Jesus experienced a moment of anger (Mark 3: 5). They all portray the flashing aggravation and passion that occurs when our expectations and hopes are threatened. In these particular instances their anger ignited redemptive purpose in their hearts. They were not destructive or dangerous.
And, that's the thing about the emotion of anger. Like all of our emotions it can flame out of control and become self-centered and domineering. Writing to the church at Ephesus the Apostle Paul counseled them----
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Ephesians 4: 26, ESV
Evidently the Apostle expected his Ephesian brothers and sisters to experience differences and moments of adversity in their faith community. Surely they knew about dissension, clashes of opinion within the community, and opposition, obstacles from people outside their congregation. Anger would naturally fuel discussion, debate, and argument about the things of faith. He warned them, however, of their anger being elevated by argument. He advised them to settle their matters before the sun went down. Sounds like good, solid biblical advice to me.
Today, we're living in an angry world. Most of us are worn and torn by the perplexities and uncertainties of Covid 19---mask wearing, calendar questions, economic disruption, educational challenges, and life adjustments at every level. Suddenly there are further explosions of racial tension, class distinctions, white privilege, humans rights, how our various governments work, court proceedings, and even neighbor to neighbor conflict. Church people are resistant to state interference. And, the truth is, most of us don't know how to deal with this emotion of anger. How in the world can we keep it from destroying us?
James, thought to be the brother of Jesus, wrote---"the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1: 20). We emotional beings must learn the spiritual disciplines of dealing with anger. That's going to be the deal this week. Please join me.