Dealing with Anger

Reading: Psalm 4
Thereís one thing we claim as our right and justify with all our might - anger. Recently I came across this comment from Dr. Redford B. Williams Jr., a Duke University scientist who says that "studies suggest that an awful lot of premature mortality may be associated with hostility.

"Hostility and anger," he said, "may be the dangerous key component of the heart-attack-prone Type A personality - people who also are characterised as being highly ambitious and impatient.

"Half the American population is considered Type A, and studies show the incidence of heart disease in five times higher among hostile persons than those who are more relaxed and willing to take life as it comes."

These days we are often been told to vent our anger, to get it out of our system. Not so, says Carol Tavris in her book, Anger, The Misunderstood Emotion. "Sometimes the best thing you can do about anger is nothing at all. Let it go, and half the time it will turn out to be an unimportant momentary shudder, quickly forgotten. The other half of the time, keeping quiet gives you time to cool down and decide whether the matter is worth discussing or not."

Dr. Tavris, a social scientist, added, "The bottom line in learning how to handle this most important of human emotions is making a moral choice." She concludes that the question is, "What kind of person do I want to be?"

Sometimes anger is altruistic, directed against cruelty and injustice towards the poor and helpless. Mostly it is purely selfish, arising from our own frustrated ideas and plans. It has been said that "to wait is the best way to cope with anger". Proverbs 15.1 says that "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger". Thatís anger in the other person. The question is how we handle our own anger.

In Psalm 4, David is calling for help to the Lord who has helped him in the past (the phrase in v. 1 is more literally, "You have given me relief from my distress"). His opponents were endeavouring to tarnish his reputation. But, no matter what they may say, "the Lord will hear when I call to him (v. 3b).

"In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent" (v. 4).

The opening phrase in this verse is literally "be agitated" and was rendered in the Septuagint (the Greek translation over two hundred years BC) "be angry". In this form it is quoted by Paul in Eph. 4.26,27 - "ĎIn your anger do not siní [ĎBe angry and sin notí, in the old Bible]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold". In other words, no matter how "natural" or immediate our angry response may be, donít hold onto it - let it go.

Why let it go? Iíve been wronged. Iíve been misrepresented. Iíve been frustrated. My reputation has been tarnished. I know Iím right. I have the right to defend myself.

And thereís the centre of the problem - me! At the very least, Iím not 100% right and the other person isnít 100% wrong! David addresses his prayer, "O my righteous God" - in the final count, only God is 100% right.

Internationally, there may be debate about a "just war". How thankful we are for fellow-Australians who have fought and saved us from aggressors! So often there has been no other human way, and nations, collectively, have resolved that action must be taken. In recent times, the issue has been whether a pre-emptive strike is justified to liberate an oppressed people and protect the world from a feared dictator. But, no matter how "justified" (or, in retrospect, "fortunate") such military action may seem to be, letís be clear about one thing - no war can be claimed to be 100% "just".

We can see that about the actions of nations - and when we look at the actions of other people - but do we apply it to ourselves and to our angry responses? Have we tried walking a mile in the other personís moccasins? How "just" is even our "justifiable" anger?

"In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." When we search our hearts - our thoughts, our motives, our aims and ambitions - we do well to be silent and to "offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord" (v. 5).

We tend to assume that happiness depends on everything "going our way". David sees many people in despair, but "You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound" (v. 7). And with a clear conscience and free from anger and bitterness, "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety" (v. 8).

Prayer: Father God, you know us in our joy and in our sadness, in our fulfilment and in our frustration. You understand our anger. Sometimes we are so sure we are right and another is wrong. And even when our anger is justified, there is so much about our expression of it that isnít right. Father, help us to search our hearts, to know your forgiveness and to live in peace. In Jesusí name, Amen.

The Cross of God

Wrath of God on sinners laid -
sinners in his image made,
making independent choice,
refusing the Creatorís voice,
choosing what I think is right,
defending then with all my might
my selfish pad - you stay away,
donít interfere and spoil my day!
My anger - thank you - is my right,
I hold to it with all my might
even though it poisons me.
I have a longing to be free
but all these others - even God -
bring the controlling of their rod
to spoil my choice, and then frustrate,
filling me with wrath and hate.
The anger that I love so well
deservingly will lead to hell.

Cross of God on Jesus laid -
guilt is gone, the wrath is paid.
Love of God for sinners given
opens wide the way to heaven.
So when I feel my anger rise
right then is time to lift my eyes
to see the dying suffering one
in whom the wrath of God is gone.
Godís right! Iím only partly so -
my bitterness will have to go.

But then I think of empty tomb -
he lives again so he can come
to give his love to those who late
were filled with bitterness and hate.
Come, Lord, Iím yours! You died for me -
possess your own and set me free!


© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin BlueCare Devotions, 29 April 2003.
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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