Dear Christ Church Family,
Anger is everywhere we look these days. It’s not just the political sphere, we also see it in those socially-distanced lines we all have to stand in for everything. For some, the compression of bodies in our homes has even caused it to flair there. But what if anger could be harnessed to accomplish something good? That’s what is proposed in our Ephesians passage today. Is that a shocking thought? Sure! Check it out.
Thursday, May 28, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
Ephesians 4: Be Angry!…say what???? As an emotion, anger is sure getting a lot of play these days. In the political sphere pundits, campaign advisors, and talk-show hosts use it as a standard component in their strategies. In the geopolitical sphere we can see its effects in everything from wars and terror to religious/ethnic persecution. But anger isn’t just a problem on the larger scene. Closer to home, we can feel it in the common everyday pursuits of our daily life.
Anger is one of the biggest personal problems we have. It is the engine that generates both the heat of rage and the ice of rejection. Anger is behind petty irritability and the cold shoulder, but it also motivates revenge and even murder. Out-of-control anger has driven us to embarrassing outbursts; or suppressed, it has moved us to the depths of depression. We regard anger fearfully, because its raging fire has burned us often. We see it as always sinful, and therefore, to be avoided at all costs.
Then we come across our Epistle lesson today, in which we hear the most startling statement: “Be angry, but do not sin.” Is that really possible? Could there be, in fact, some positive expression of anger, some expression that doesn’t lead to negative behavior? Well, yes! God created anger as a valuable resource for us. It was placed in our file of feelings as an essential part of our human makeup. What good is it? Well, anger, when its fiery energy is harnessed and controlled, is a motivator. That is when we control it, not when it controls us. It can motivate us to do things that otherwise we would feel were too difficult to bother trying, such as determining to heal an injured relationship, or doing the work to strengthen a friendship. Anger is a strong internal agitation that impels us to deal with obstacles and unacceptable situations. Anger stirs us when we or those we care about are offended, injured, or treated unjustly, and prompts us to do something about it.
Anger need not drive us to violence or hostile behavior though. Common sense says that when we begin to get angry, we can stop and decide how to respond to the situations in the right way. That’s what our passage means when it says, “Be angry, but do not sin.” It is not anger that deserves our condemnation, but its abuse. The hot fire of anger, when properly directed can become a “friendly fire,” an energy that motivates us to heal the hurts that separate friends.
Take, for instance, the part of verse 26 that says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Put another way, don’t go to bed mad, or at least, don’t go to sleep mad. In other words, we don’t necessarily have to settle the problem that led to the anger right away; we just need to address the anger and agree to let go of it as we agree to work on the problem at a better time. It’s okay to sleep on a problem, but not to sleep on the anger.
A lot of couples and friends make a big mistake when they decide that they’ll be able to deal better with their anger in the morning. Things will look better if they just sleep on it. In truth, come morning, things do look better. It’s just that the emotional hurt that caused the anger the night before is still there un-dealt with. The anger we felt the night before, which was driving us to deal with the hurt, has dissipated during the night. We no longer feel like addressing the issue because it’s just too much trouble. But the hurt isn’t really gone. It has now been pushed down deep inside. It’s no longer on the surface, so all seems okay, but it’s still there; its embers glowing underneath, creating resentment, just ready to flash the first time it’s exposed to the light. It doesn’t take anything big to make it flash either.
I remember when D’aun and I were first married. I came down to breakfast one morning. D’aun had put corn flakes on the table. And, she had, in an effort to be helpful, put the milk on them for me. I don’t know about you, but I hate soggy corn flakes, and these were going down for the third count. Well, I exploded. Then she exploded. The fireworks flared until we caught ourselves and thought, “All this over soggy corn flakes?” It turned out that the anger we were expressing had actually been caused by a hurt that had arisen two weeks before, but we had been busy and tired and we had slept on it. We had pushed it down, and the resentment had grown until it flared over soggy corn flakes. The ironic thing is that we didn’t save any time for ourselves by not dealing with the anger when it arose. We still had to heal that, but two weeks later we had to first take the time to go back and figure out what the problem had been in the first place.
Sadly, many couples and friends will go years without dealing with festering resentments, adding more and more fuel to the glowing embers below every time a problem occurs, until they can no longer remember what caused the resentment in the first place. Then one day something happens to set it all off. The heat of the years rages forth and all is consumed in its path, including the relationship. This explains how a seemingly happy marriage or friendship that’s lasted for many years can suddenly disintegrate into hatred and acrimony. So, this is imperative if anger is to be a friend. Let it motivate us to deal with the problem while it is at hand, and don’t let the sun set without settling the anger. This is one way in which even anger can help us fulfill the last verse of our passage, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”