Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Deep Emotions: Anger

Deep Emotions: Anger

The first in my 2010 Lent sermon series on Deep Emotions. This sermon was delivered to the Stockton Presbyterian Church on 2/21/10. Scriptures used for the sermon were the book of Jonah and Matthew 12:38-45

And there's always a place for the angry young man,
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand.
And he's never been able to learn from mistakes,
He can't understand why his heart always breaks.
His honor is pure and his courage as well
--William Joel, poet, The Angry Young Man

Today, we start a series of sermons on deep emotions. The purpose of these sermons is to name some common emotions that we all feel, identify some dynamics involved with them and then look at these emotions from a biblical perspective. The purpose of these sermons is not really to become overly introspective. We are talking about these emotions during LENT because, it is a season of reflection. And all reflection should point us toward God and good.

The definition of Anger, according to Webster's Dictionary:
Noun: strong feeling of displeasure aroused by a wrong
Verb: to arouse strong feelings of displeasure
Our current word is rooted in the 12th century, meaning to grieve, anguish or have sorrow

This past week, I received an email forward about a man asking the nation to vote out every current congressman because they raised their salary in the midst of economic uncertainty. It was an angry email.

Now, did this email writer, just figure out that congress gives themselves pay raises, or perhaps, the real issue is that something in his life changed to put him over the edge, and he is looking to blame someone/thing for the problem. And he found it.

The problem in our society right now is that we could have picked any number of issues that make people angry. It is almost too easy to do.

So regardless of what makes people angry, we certainly see and know the physical effects of anger…
  • Blood pressure rising
  • Ready to defend or attack
  • Teeth grinding
  • Face turning red
  • Adrenaline kicking in
  • The Vein growing out of the forehead

Whenever we are angry, there are also some things going on internally:

  • Our emotional reasoning is not working
  • We find ourselves experiencing a low frustration tolerance
  • We have unreasonable expectations
  • We label people, keeping them in their packages

We become angry because of real or perceived threats, past experiences, learned behaviors, our personality and our lack of problem solving skills.

Anger is in this world because something is wrong. And humans like to assign blame to what is wrong. Sometimes, humans also identify a problem and then seek to solve the problem. That is anger at its best, to identify a wrong, contemplate a solution that is helpful to all parties, and then make the change.

There is wrong in self, surroundings and society.
The wrong in self is dysfunction. Something is not functioning within us. Often, we will flee these types of wrong, in order to protect ourselves from changing.

The wrong in surroundings usually cause us to fight. This is because we are protecting ourselves against attack of our well being or comfort.

The wrong in society is injustice. The system is in dysfunction, not just the individual.

What do some of the verses in the Bible say about anger?

  • In your anger, do not sin (ephesians 4:26)
  • Anger does not produce the righteous lifestyle that God wants (James 1:20)
  • There are multiple verses which site God as angry, and the more I think about that, it is ok. We work so hard to make God not look angry. But what about our definition? Anger is displeasure at what is wrong. Doesn't God's holiness justify anger...if someone is wrong, shouldn't we want God to move the world toward what is right?
  • Jesus said anyone angry with his brother will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:22)
  • An angry man stirs up dissension and a hot tempered one commits many sins (Proverbs 15:1)
  • A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

Then there is the Story of Jonah, which for our blog readers, I highly suggest you read in its entirety. It takes about 8 minutes to read and is a fascinating story. For our purposes, anger is revealed and grows in Jonah's life because...

  • Ran away from what God had said (whole problem could have been averted)
  • He is dishonest with crew members (stemming from his personal dysfunction)
  • Jonah is greatly displeased that God’s plan is different from his expectations.
  • He then displays faulty emotional reasoning: "I knew you would be nice to them"
    which strikes me as speaking irrationally and internal dysfunction is exposed.
  • He cannot answer truthfully God’s questions: Do you have any right to be angry?
  • This is followed by the story of the vine, and Jonah's anger at a gift given/taken
  • The story ends with God’s concerns being identified, which lead to salvation.

I had a humorous incident occur when preparing this sermon. A book I had needed was not on my shelf. My immediate reaction was to blame. "Someone must have taken it", I rationalized to myself (as if people had nothing better to do with their lives than come and misplace the book they thought I might need for a sermon that week). Rather than taking a step back, and thinking about other options, I saw myself start to blame, and the seeds of anger were growing. I caught myself before the anger grew too powerful, and laughed at the absurdity of my thinking when the book was in the next room, right where I had left it. Putting the anger aside, and using creativity to think of an alternative solution allowed that solution to present itself.

A problem arose, I wasn’t able to solve it, I blamed others, however irrational that was, and then took a step back, came up with a solution, and solved the problem.

This leads me to Good’s Guide to Putting Anger in its place…
1. Take a breath and a step back.
2. Ask yourself, Is my anger based upon imagination or reality?
3. If it is reality, will I internalize or address the anger?
4. If I choose to address the anger, is my solution a positive action.

I think it is appropriate to mention that internalizing does have its place. We are so quick to reject the idea of internalizing anger. Yet, are we better off saying everything that comes to our mind? I do not think so.

The problem is that if we nurture our anger long enough, we end up as the man Joel describes at the end his song, “well, he’ll go to the grave an angry old man”.

Anger is rooted in passion.
Anger is justified against evil. But be careful, for we are not judges of the human heart.

Perhaps love, a passion for the good, should replace anger in our lives.
Perhaps being concerned with what God is concerned about is what we should be doing and being.

“You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. But Ninevah has more than a 120,000 people and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

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