[The following article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching, Healthily Processing Anger by Karen Theisen.]
God bless you, this is Karen Theisen, and I am thrilled to be able to have the privilege to share with you on the topic of Healthily Processing Anger.
This is a very timely issue in my own life. As a small child, I had somehow internalized the idea that God Almighty would be very displeased if I ever got angry. You can imagine my dismay when as an older teenager I finally began to read the Bible on my own. Frankly, I was quite shocked at the Psalms. I was beginning to read the Psalms because I wanted to know more about praise and how to have a relationship with God. The word praise is actually used more often in the Bible in Psalms than any place else. Unbeknownst to me, a lot is in the Psalms about anger and other issues with which I had struggles.
Frankly, it really surprised me to find that my heavenly Father displays Himself as having the emotion of anger. Today, I want to take a look at that because perhaps some of you also have struggled with this concept. We are going to be taking a look at the two categories of anger that are displayed in the Bible. The first one is justifiable anger. That is the kind of anger that our heavenly Father displays and that our Lord Jesus Christ displays; therefore, we should assume that we too at times would have justifiable anger. The second is unjustifiable anger. We will be taking a look at situations of unjustifiable anger.
We will also be talking today about the physical, the psychological, and spiritual prices that we pay when we choose not to resolve or healthily process our angers. We pay huge prices, not just as individuals, but I am going to assert that as a community of believers that we pay huge prices when we do not process our anger.
We are also going to be talking about strategies for dealing with angers. The strategies will vary depending upon whether you are the recipient of someone’s anger or whether you are the person who is angry. Finally, we will be closing with a look at the Lord Jesus Christ, his life, and how he chose to deal with anger.
I would like to begin in Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:26 and 27
(26) “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,
(27) and do not give the devil a foothold.
It is interesting that it says, “In your anger do not sin.” I shared with you that as a little Christian girl I had the idea that anger was a sin in and of itself. Actually, the Webster’s New World dictionary defines anger as this, “A hostile feeling of displeasure because of injury or opposition.” The emotion of anger is just that; it is an emotion. It tells us that something is up. We have in someway been possibly violated. Our boundaries have been violated.
I was really surprised that as I began to read through the Psalms I discovered that our heavenly Father says that He gets angry. This tells us that the emotion of anger, again, in and of itself is not a negative emotion. I would like to begin with Psalm 78. What exactly was God communicating? In this particular situation, we will see that God’s justifiable anger involved unbelief, the unbelief of His people.
Psalm 78:12 and 13
(12) He did miracles in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.
(13) He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand firm like a wall.
I cannot wait to see the rerun of that. That will be amazing.
(14) He guided them with the cloud by day and with light from the fire all night.
(15) He split the rocks in the desert and gave them water as abundant as the seas;
(16) he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers.
(17) But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High.
(18) They willfully put God to the test by demanding the food they craved.
This whole section goes on to talk about basically how the Children of Israel tested God. They complained about foods that they missed. God in His loving provision did provide, and yet, if you read through this whole section, you will see that our heavenly Father gets angry and rightfully so. His anger was justified.
Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger…
The anger in and of itself was not evil; it was healthy. His people had betrayed His trust. He was frustrated and rightfully so.
Psalm 78:38b and 39
(38) and did not stir up his full wrath.
(39) He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.
Let’s look at Jeremiah chapter 44. This is another example of our heavenly Father getting angry. In this particular example, we will see that the anger involved idolatry. God is very clear on His boundaries. God did not want His people to do certain things because it hurts us.
(1) This word came to Jeremiah concerning all the Jews living in Lower Egypt—in Migdol, Tahpanhes and Memphis —and in Upper Egypt:
(2) “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins
(3) because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshiping other gods that neither they nor you nor your fathers ever knew.
Again, it is all about idolatry. God goes on.
(4) Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do this detestable thing that I hate!’
(5) But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods.
(6) Therefore, my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today.
(7) “Now this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
This is very telling, and as we read through this, I want you to be considering, “What are the idols that you and I face today?” You might not be tempted to burn incense to an idol, but what about the idol of self? What about the idol of beauty? What about the idol of pursuing fame? What about the idol of pursuing great monetary wealth? I am not saying that having wealth is necessarily evil, but I am saying how you hold it in your heart could be. What about the idol of TV watching or pornography? Fill in the blank, what idols might you be considering as we read these Scriptures.
Why bring such great disaster on yourselves by cutting off from Judah the men and women, the children and infants, and so leave yourselves without a remnant?
Idolatry costs all of us a lot.
Why provoke me to anger with what your hands have made, burning incense to other gods in Egypt, where you have come to live? You will destroy yourselves and make yourselves an object of cursing and reproach among all the nations on earth.
We, as individuals, pay a mighty price when we are involved in idolatry. God has justified anger here in this Scripture. We live in a time of an Administration of Grace. You do not see people who are bowing down to false gods being zapped off the face of the earth during this time period, absolutely not. We have the privilege of taking a stand and helping people to understand who God is, who Jesus Christ is, what is the holy spirit, and how it can operate in the Church today.
We have seen that justifiable anger involves unbelief and idolatry. If you were to look at Psalm 2:2-3 you would see that those who oppose the Gospel are a cause of God’s anger.
Finally, I want to take a look at Romans.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
God is justifiably angry when wicked people suppress the truth of God’s Word. If you take a look at our world politically, you will see entire countries that say it is now illegal to witness about the Lord. You can no longer talk about Jesus Christ in certain countries. That makes our heavenly Father angry and justifiably so. Truly we are in a spiritual battle, and we battle not against flesh and blood. No man made law is going to suppress our heavenly Father and His Word from impacting the world. My challenge is for us to see the role that we have to play in it. When we choose not to resolve our own anger issues, then we get side tracked, and we are playing wounded.
I would like to take a look at some incidences where Jesus got angry. This is a perfect example of Jesus who healthily processes his anger. He is angry and feels the emotion fully, but he does not sin in it. He has spiritual opponents who not only experience anger, but also they process it in a very unhealthy way.
Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there.
Does that not just make your heart ache to think about that? This man is there with a shriveled hand. It makes me wonder what his life must have been like. Often people thought those who had physical ailments were “cursed by God.” This man is there with a shriveled hand.
Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.
It is interesting to see the positioning of their hearts. They may have been quite the prayers publicly and positioned their bodies in certain ways to be seen. They had attained great religious authority in their community; yet look at the posture of their hearts. Does it not make you want to cry? Let us see how Jesus reacts.
Mark 3:3 and 4
(3) Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
(4) Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
Of course they did, Levitical law said that it is okay to help an animal that would fall into a ditch on a Sabbath, and yet in their hearts they had dared Jesus to heal. It is also interesting to me that they knew that he could do it; it was not a matter of could Jesus heal, but it was a matter in their hearts of would he dare heal on this religious day, very interesting.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.
Can you imagine the joy in the man’s heart and the tears? Jesus Christ healthily processed his anger. He felt the emotion, but he responded in a way that brought healing and life to those around him. He did not pretend like it was not there. He did not curse; no, he responded in a healthy way. Now, let us look at how the Pharisees responded.
Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
The irony of ironies, is it not? Oh goodness, do not heal on the Sabbath, but it would certainly be okay to plot the murder of an innocent man on the Sabbath! Do you hear where the hearts of these men were? We see in this situation that Jesus was justifiably angry when people who had religious positions manipulated God’s precious people for their own good.
Let us look now at John chapter two. This is another example of when Jesus gets angry. I think that it is fascinating that as you read through the Word of God to look at what Jesus gets angry about and to look at what Jesus stays calm about. It is very astounding and lovely to see. You do not see him get mad at the woman who is caught in adultery. He does not condone the sin, but he does not get mad and lose his mind.
It is a good thing for us as parents to remember as we raise our teenagers. It is a good thing for us to remember for those of us who have been in sexual sins when it comes to forgiving ourselves and forgetting.
John 2:13 and 14
(13) When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
(14) In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.
I would like to build the context of this a little bit to help you understand that when people traveled to Jerusalem for a feast day, it was quite appropriate to need an animal for sacrifice. So many of them were traveling from so far away, throughout northern Africa many, many far away places. It would have been difficult for them to travel with a lot of animals to offer a sacrifice. They would bring money. The monies would not necessarily be used in the Temple, and so it was considered valid for a table of exchange to be there. It would be kind of the same concept of if we travel to a different country that we exchange the currency of our homeland for the currency of where we are going. That could not have been what Jesus was angry about. I have read different Bible commentators about this. Some believe that basically what happened here was that they were selling damaged sacrificial animals and were requiring the people to pay top dollar. The quality of the animal was not very good and the amount of money that was being required was totally ridiculous.
Remember that our Jesus did not sin. Let us look at what he does.
(15) So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
(16) To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”
(17) His disciples remembered that it is written:
This was a prophecy that had been given centuries earlier about the coming Messiah.
“Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Again, Jesus Christ took an active stand but it was not sin, interesting. Now look at the next verse.
John 2:18 and 19
(18) Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
(19) Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
Let us look at another example of where Jesus gets angry. We have seen so far that Jesus has gotten angry at the hard hearts of the religious leaders; he has gotten upset and angry, rightfully so, justifiably so, about the misuse of his Father’s house. It was supposed to be a house of prayer, a house of praise, a house of worship, a house of gathering. It had been basically reduced in the hearts of the religious people as a market, an opportunity to make a buck (money)! In looking at this next situation, we will look at a situation that will involve those who would try to block God’s will.
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, …
Jesus understood the prophetic nature of the Scriptures. It behooves us to understand that also. Perhaps that concept is new to you, “What does he mean by the prophetic nature of the Scriptures?” I challenge you to really dig into God’s Word. Prophecies were given about the Messiah. Certain things were to be fulfilled by the Messiah that was given centuries before Christ. Prophets, people who could hear the voice of God and recorded these things, gave them. That is one of the key reasons that our Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. That is what makes him stand out. He is different than Mohammad. He is different from Buddha. He is different from Doha or any other religious leader who ever was or who ever will be. Our Jesus’ life was imbedded in prophetic words that he caused to come about. He is the golden thread that runs all the way through Scripture. If you train yourself to look at the Old Testament that way, it becomes alive for you; you begin to see it.
Jesus who was an avid student of God’s Word understood that he was going to be a sin offering. He was offering his life. He would not become sin; he never sinned, but he would become a sin offering. He is telling these things to his disciples, his followers.
and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
I love this! Do you see yourself in this at all?
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Now, Peter loves Jesus and look at how Jesus responds.
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!
Ouch, that must have really hurt to be called Satan, the adversary. That is what the word Satan means in the Greek. He is saying get behind me adversary.
You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
I love this because if you were to read earlier in Matthew, Peter had actually gotten that this Jesus was the Messiah. Earlier Jesus compliments him and says, “You know Peter, you could not have come up with that one just on your own. You are walking; my heavenly Father revealed this to you.” I love this because it reminds me that in my own spiritual walk, guess what, times will occur when I do not get the full picture and that I am walking out of my flesh, and I need people around me who will love me enough to come along side me and confront that in me.
At this point, I think that we have easily established that anger is an emotion. It is a neutral emotion. God reveals that He Himself gets angry which tells us that justifiable anger is there. Jesus also gets angry. The things to be looking for in justifiable anger involve anger with unbelief, idolatry, those who oppose the Gospel, and the wicked that suppress the truth. We can get angry when we look at the hard heartedness of religious people. I challenge you that as you read to seek this out yourself. Ask the Lord, “Lord show me if acting like a Pharisee is there in my own heart.” I asked the Lord to show me that, the fleshly part of my own heart.
We see that Jesus gets angry at people who misuse the Temple. Guess what? The Word says that each of us is the temple. The Body of Christ is the temple, so we might get angry then when we see a fellow believer who is misusing their body. How we process that anger and how we show it to the person is going to be the key.
We also see Jesus getting angry with anyone who would block God’s will.
I would like to briefly look at examples where unjustified anger occurs. These are examples of people who got angry, but their anger was unjustified.
Luke 13:10 and 11a
(10) On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues,
(11) and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.
I challenge you, if you are at a place where you need healing, to look at the pattern that Jesus has established. Sometimes it is a physical healing that we need. Sometimes our healing involves a kind of psychological block. Sometimes Jesus would say, “Your sin has been forgiven you.” Next thing, the person would then be up and walking. Sometimes healing can be blocked because demonic influence is there. That is what is happening with this situation.
(11) She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
(12) When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
(13) Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
(14) Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
(15) The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water?
(16) Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
(17) When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
I would like to share with you about Luke chapter fifteen, verses 11-32. This is the story about the prodigal son. I would like to call your attention to the fact that really two prodigal sons are there in the story. The one prodigal son is pretty easy to recognize. He asks for his inheritance. He spends it on lude and unholy living, but he comes to his senses and comes back to ask his father’s forgiveness. The other prodigal son is the supposed good boy son. You will see that he was the prodigal son also because of his heart and what is revealed in his heart and how he responds to his brother. You will see there another example of unjustified anger, the supposed good brother, he may look good on the outside but he had a lot of ugliness in his heart—a lot of deep-rooted anger.
We are going to look at the zealous disciples of Jesus, James, and John, and their example of unjustified anger. I invite you to see if you see yourself at all in this. I definitely have seen myself in this place at times!
(51) As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
(52) And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him;
(53) but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.
The context of this has to do with the Samaritan belief that Mount Gerizim was the place to worship. They thought that the Jews were often requiring people to go to Jerusalem for Passover and other Jewish feast days. I love this because I love how the Lord handles this situation. In our spiritual walks, times occur when we have incorrect doctrine and maladaptive thinking, I shared mine earlier about thinking that getting angry at all would be a sin. I love to see the gentleness that Jesus uses when he handles these situations. Jesus is sending messengers ahead who went into the Samaritan village to get things ready for him, but the people were not welcoming. Why? Because Jesus was heading to Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
I love that! My NIV note says that James and John were known as sons of thunder. James and John are here on their high-horse with all their correct doctrine. Now it is good to have doctrine that is correct. Please do not misrepresent my heart here. Doctrine is good, and the Bible does say, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set your free (John 8:32).” For those that may know more truth, we see time and time again that our Jesus does it very gently. We should not use truth to hit people upon the head. We should not badger people into growing spiritually more quickly. We do not see our Lord Jesus doing that. Here his disciples are saying, “Lord, Lord come on; hey we could do this for ya’ how about if we call down fire from heaven to destroy them.” That is very revealing of their hearts. Their hearts are not quite for the people there are they?
Luke 9:55 and 56
(55) But Jesus turned and rebuked them,
(56) and they went to another village.
I love how Jesus deals with us and with his disciples! I would like to share a quote I read once from a conflict resolution specialist, “anger is most often about two issues: unfairness and our fears of loosing control of circumstances.” I thought that was very interesting.
I would like to take a look at what happens when we choose not to process anger healthily. Various ways are there for anger to show itself. If you were to get a concordance out, you would see that various words are used in the Old Testament, Hebrew, for anger. One of them I loved. It is aph, which in the Hebrew means from the nostril. It is sometimes translated snorting. Have you ever gotten so angry or seen someone so angry that his or her nostrils flare? It is very interesting because physiologically our entire body is impacted when we are angry.
What I would like to do at this point is to quote from a book called Anger is a Choice by Tim Lahaye and Bob Phillips. “You mean that it is not just this emotion that comes over me over which I have no control!” That is what I mean. I am going to quote from page 49. They are talking about the physiological or the biological responses here that we as humans have in our bodies physically when we get angry.
“The doctors explain what happens inside your body when you become angry. If you become intensely angered by some phenomena, your hypothalamus will almost instantaneously send signals to all or almost all the nerve endings of your sympathic nervous system. Now again the nervous system is not directly under your control. This causes them to secrete relatively large amounts of epinephrine and nor-epinephrine, otherwise known as adrenalin and non-adrenalin.”
I am going to skip a few things, but I want to tell you this part. It says:
“The same fit of anger will probably also induce the hypothalamus to send additional messages to the pituitary gland, which is the master of all endocrine glands, urging it to discharge some of its own exclusively manufactured hormones; such as growth hormones and also to send out chemical signals to the adrenal, the sax, the thyroid glands, and the pancreas as well. They in turn will secrete excessive amounts of their exclusively manufactured hormones.”
Do you get the picture here? Lots of chemical things are going on in our body.
“As a consequence, not only will your tissues be bathed by an excess amount of hormones when you become angry, they may also be exposed to exceedingly large amounts of various pituitary, adrenal hormones, testosterone or estrogen if you are a woman and insulin. Friedman and Rosamen [Those are physicians.] also say that most type A subjects [I should explain Type A meaning people that tend to be aggressive and tend to get angry quite easily.] exhibit one: an increase blood level of cholesterol and fat, two: a marked lag in ridding their body of cholesterol, which is in the food that is ingested, three: a pre-diabetic state, and four: an increase tendency for clotting elements of the blood to precipitate it.”
Basically what happens then is that we put ourselves at risk to get heart attacks. As I was preparing for this sharing, I read an incident of a rather famous psychologist who was known to have incredible temper tantrums. His anger was way out of control. He actually commented while going into a meeting, “The first person that makes me mad will lead to a heart attack.” That is exactly what happened to that man.
I want to quote from the same book page 52.
“We can see that it is not always easy to get to the root of our anger, but with God’s help and some of our own honesty, we can become our own counselors. We do not need a degree in medicine or psychology to discover the cause and correction for our behavior, although this may be helpful at times.”
I love that; I love seeing the physiological responses. My husband, Gary, is a physician, and he shared with me in some of his medical books some of the physiological prices that can be paid. I thought that it was very interesting that as adrenaline and nor-epinephrine flood our systems, every single body system is impacted. Our breathing changes; it becomes initially much more shallow then becomes much deeper. Interesting enough, even our ability to take in and process information is severely impaired. The pupils of the eye constrict, which means that they get smaller. Again, it is very telling; no light is getting into the brain. When you are in an argument and you see their face getting flushed, you hear that their voice is raising, you see the signs that perhaps they are perspiring, their voice is shaking, and their pupils are constricting, at that point the wisest thing to do is to excuse yourself. That person is probably not at a place where they can even hear your feedback. At that point, it is wise to say, “You know, why don’t we agree to take a break?” Ask the Lord however long that might be, thirty minutes or a time out away from each other.
Going back to Ephesians 4:26, we are given the mandate from the Lord that we are not to let the sun go down on our anger. We are to be resolving things on a daily basis. This is critical for married couples; this is critical for co-workers that we are resolving things, and that we are not allowing the Enemy to steal our time away.
I want to quickly read through some medical diseases that are linked to anger: hives, eczema, runny-nose, asthma, diarrhea, constipation, nausea and vomiting, ulcers, migraine headaches, arterial hypertension [stroke or heart attack], and lower back pain. Some people choose to smoke because it is a form of releasing anger. Again, we see that physiological changes are there that can come about. Depression is linked to anger, as are certain types of mental illness, disassociative diseases. As a matter of fact, Henry Brant a well-known Christian counselor said that in his experience 80 to 90 percent of all counseling involves some type of anger issue that has been unresolved.
I want to take a look at the psychological prices that we pay when we choose to not process our anger. A lot of times when people get angry, they have a very covert way of handling it, covert meaning covered or hidden. I want to point out that this way of processing anger is as dangerous as the overt form of yelling, screaming, and raging. It is subtle, but it can be just as dangerous.
People who have a covert way of handling anger may be in denial. Have you ever met someone who just says, “I just do not get angry?” What is up with that? These are the kinds of folks who might sulk or they might pout or they might withdraw. They might withdraw physically from the situation. If they are married, they may withdraw from sexual intimacy with their spouse. People who are involved with the hidden covert types of anger may experience depression. They may experience eating disorders. Very likely, some substance abuse issues can be present dealing with either alcohol or illicit drugs. Those are all covert types of anger. These are the people who are chronically late. They are the revenge seekers. They do it in such a passive/aggressive way that it is kind of hard to put a handle on this kind of a thing. Remember, that this can be as destructive not only for the person in terms of their body and what they are opening themselves up to physiologically, but also with anyone whom they are in relationship.
Also, covert or obvious ways are there when people get angry. Some people immediately begin to verbally abuse. This is not only name calling, but also the subtle responses like the biting humor or sarcasm. This type of anger is very subtle and often times not even recognized that it is a form of anger.
What about cursing? My good friend, John Schoenheit, shared something with me that really changed my life. He shared that you can look at the language of mankind and see that we are involved with a spiritual battle. I remember thinking “Well, wait John where are you going with this; I am not quite clear.” He said “How often have you ever seen someone get angry and then they would shout, ‘Oh Buddha’?” I was saying, “What are you talking about?” It then dawned on me; “He is right.” You never here someone say, “Oh Buddha!” “Oh Mohammad!” However, how often do you hear someone curse and use the name of Jesus Christ or God as the curse word? That is a spiritual attack; it is an attack in the heavenlies to degrade our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ and his Father, the one true God. I want you to notice that about yourself and others when they are angry. How often do we curse using the name of God or Jesus Christ?
The other area of attack is sexual intimacy. God created sexual intimacy and it was to be a part of a marriage covenant. That was a gift to those who were willing to take the risk to be married. Sexual intimacy is not something that God’s heart was that everyone would be practicing it; even though, in the world right now that is what you would think by the way people behave. Really, sex was intended for marriage. How often when you think about curse words do the words have to do with sexual intimacies? Think about it? The sexual intimacy was to be a blessing and yet the Enemy, Satan, has twisted the language of people so that basically we are cursing what is meant to be a gift. I would like you to notice that.
Let’s look at Matthew 5:33.
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’
When we say that we are going to do something follow through with it.
(34) But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
(35) or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.
(36) And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.
(37) Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
As we discipline ourselves to healthily process anger we may have to take a very hard look at the habit patterns in which we have allowed ourselves to participate. If that is cursing for you, then you really need to take a hard look at that. This is a covert way that anger is displayed. I would like for you to consider triangulation. What I mean by that is when a person gets angry, but they are not willing to do what the Bible tells us to do in Matthew 18. That is to go to the person with whom they are angry; instead, they go to another person with a criticism. Sometimes I have seen where they say, “I have a prayer request for so-and-so because that person is really now struggling with such-and-such.” This is an inappropriate disclosure of personal information. The heart is not about getting someone to pray for the other. It is all about revealing sins.
I also want to share with you that it is a proven fact that if verbal abuse is part of a relationship and if the verbal abuse is not interrupted, then approximately 80% of the time that couple will go on and become involved with physical abuse. Physical abuse is typically male to female, but that is not always the case. Sometimes it is female to male abuse. In my job, I am involved with a peer education abstinence program, and we talk about ways to tell if you are in a healthy relationship or an unhealthy relationship. It is important for us to be teaching our young women that our nation wide statistic is this, “One quarter of all young women will at some point be involved in an abusive relationship.” We then need to be teaching them the signs of what this would look like. Verbal abuse is one, and physical abuse is another. Never is there an excuse for anger to violate to the point where there is physical abuse involved.
Sadly, we also need to talk about the whole area of sexual abuse. Anger is very involved with sexual sin. At this point, I would like to quote from another book. The name of that book is called Letting Go of Anger and Frustration. The author’s names are Pam and John Vredevelt, and this couple does a lot of counseling. I am going to quote from page 70.
“Intense anger not only gives a similar sort of buzz but also fuels marital infidelity. In all the years that John and I have been counselors, we have not met anyone who was unfaithful to his or her spouse who did not have a problem with anger. Sometimes the anger was obvious but not always. We have people in the midst of affairs who were experts at camouflaging their anger or driving it underground. Making choices against your conscience and your personal convictions takes an emotional push, and the emotion that energizes that push is anger. Sexual immorality and anger are joined at the hip. I say all of this to simply underline the fact that fantasies, anger, sexual addictions, and infidelity are connected. We often find these issues mentioned together in Scripture. In a letter to the Corinthian Church the Apostle Paul says, ‘I am afraid that when I come there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, fractions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder. I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented at the impurity, the sexual sin, and the debauchery in which they have indulged.’”
This Scripture can be found in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21. The authors continue to write:
“In a letter to the Church at Colossi he says this, ‘Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature sexual immorality, impurity, and lust. You use to walk in these ways in the life you once lived, but now, you must rid yourselves of all such as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.’ Sexual immorality and anger are joined at the hip. Often the anger stems from unmet needs either within the marriage or within other significant relationships past or present. When people allow such needs to continue unattended, they become vulnerable to rationalizing their behavior in a way that allows them to seek instant gratification. Unhealthy choices are driven by angry beliefs such as: ‘If so-and-so won’t give me what I want, then I will get it another way; and I do not care if I have to break a few rules to do it.’”
This is a very good book, Letting Go of Anger and Frustration, and I highly recommend it.
Again, we see that sexual sins can be the result of unresolved anger. How can we as believers take responsibility and deal with our anger in a healthy way? First of all, I would like to assert that we have a great role model in Jesus Christ. Obviously, one of the first questions we need to be asking is: “Is my anger justified?” or “Is my anger unjustified?” If your anger is justified, then we need to be looking at healthy ways to being proactive to dealing with the situation. This does not give us permission to return evil for evil.
I would also like to ask you to take a look at your language. This is a very practical tool that I have used. In my own personal life, I had a real hard time with unresolved anger and yet like many people, I did not quite recognize that about myself. When it came to the forefront for me was shortly after my husband, Gary, and I got married. We had probably been married about 2-3 weeks. We were having our first full-fledged argument. I tell you, I was getting pretty darn tired of waiting around for him to see that I was right! Have you ever been there before? You are just so sure that you are right and your spouse seeing that you are right. Frankly, I had gotten impatient and was tired of the wait. I pulled my fist back, and my husband all of a sudden burst out laughing at me. He says to me, “Karen, what are you going to do right now? Are you going to hit me?” Well, I teared-up because I recognized in that moment that, oh my gosh, that was exactly what I was going to do. I just wanted to hall off and punch him. I could not even talk about this for a long, long time because of the shame that it brought on for me. I can share it with you now with the hopes that I could encourage you that if you are from a family that perhaps were physically violent with one another, like my siblings and I were, in that we would rail on each other at times. We learned habit patterns as children, and yet as adults we need to take responsibility and to take a look and say, “Is this really a healthy habit pattern to continue in my life?” I can admit now that frankly I brought very abusive patterns into my marriage, so this processing of anger was a very real issue for me. Times still occur where I really have to work on this. I have to really discipline my mouth and my thinking when it comes to this area.
One of the things that I noticed when I was losing control of myself was that I would often frame my anger as if it was an emotion that I could not control. For example, I might say, “The kids are driving me crazy,” or “You make me so angry that I could just kill you right now.” Do you hear that language? “You make me…” then fill in the blank. I was not taking an account for myself was I? I was not being responsible. The first thing that we need to do in terms of being able to healthily process anger is that we need to be able to authentically communicate what is going on for us and take responsibility for whatever we are feeling. That is step one.
Let’s go to Proverbs. It’s loaded with very wise suggestions on how to deal with this whole issue of anger.
Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.
The first step in healthily processing anger is that I must take responsibility for my actions. Anger is just not something that comes upon us. It is not something that we cannot control. I am going to assert that this is true in all situations. I understand that sometimes people have gotten so angry that they could become demonically possessed. I think that our court system is set up in such a way that even reflects that. We have a difference in our court system here in the United States between premeditated murder, murder where the person has planned out the act, and we also acknowledge that crimes of passion occur. That still does not mean that we are not responsible for controlling our own minds. When we choose not to, then we are setting ourselves up to work with our Enemy to allow ourselves to behave in ways that we will regret. Again, the Bible says that it is available to us to choose to remain in control.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
This is key. When someone is angry with us, and that is a difficult position to be in, it does not mean we should also get angry. I try to discipline my mind to ask myself, “Is their anger justified? Did I hurt this person? What has occurred here?” Stand in it; do not retreat. Resolve to be able to be in a situation where we can have a conflict-resolution. Again, the prefix con means with, coming together with. The word confrontation means con with, coming along side of and frontation comes from the word frons in Latin which means forehead; thus it is a face to face. That opens up possibilities. Again, when we choose to withdraw or to hide in very covert ways in dealing with anger, we are paying huge prices in our relationships with one another. [We highly recommend reading Boundaries Face to Face: How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.]
It is very good for us to discipline ourselves to stay calm, to keep your voice very modulated. Parents this is key as we train our children. For those of us who are in situations where we are working outside the home, this is key with our co-workers. As believers, we have control over ourselves. We have the spirit of God within us. We do not have to respond to anger with anger.
I also want to say that it is very important for us to remember that God has role modeled for us that He is slow to anger.
(8) The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
(9) He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
(10) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
Which tells us that that is the same graciousness, the same mercy that we are called to extend to other people.
Psalm 103:11 and 12
(11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
(12) as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
Our heavenly Father not only forgives, but he forgets. That is tough for us as believers. I will be the first to admit that in our sin nature often times we remember when we have been wounded by others and we build defensive walls where we do not want to set ourselves up to be hurt again.
I want to remind you that anger is what is called a meta-emotion. This means that anger is an emotion that often times masks other emotions. Another tool that you can use is too ask yourself, “What was the event at which I got angry?” “What caused me to get angry?” You need to take a look at the event. It is interesting in that anger being the emotion that it is, I have discovered for myself that it is not always so much the event itself, but it is my interpretation of what happened.
I am going to share with you an incident that helped me to understand this. I was in a grocery store, and I was shopping when all of a sudden I was grabbed from behind. Someone put their hands over my face, and I could not see. I was angry immediately. I was thinking, “Who is breaking my space? My gosh, what is happening to me!” I whipped around only to look at the teenage daughter of a friend of mine, and she giggled, and I started laughing. Immediately the anger that was welling up in me diffused. I realized that she was just trying to be funny. She gave me a big hug, and we talked. Later on, I had to take a look at myself for why that was my immediate reaction when someone broke my physical space. Do you hear what I am saying in that? How I framed that initial experience of having an arm come around me, my face being covered? What I believed about that situation immediately made my heart start beating. I could feel the rush of the adrenaline, and I went into the fight mode right away and yanked myself right around. We should look at this. Often times, we need to look at what the event is that makes us angry, and we need to look at our belief about the event.
As a matter of fact, in counseling, a technique has been developed by a man named Albert Alice called the ABC Technique. You look at the antecedent or the activating event, and you look at B your belief about the event, and then you look at C the consequences of the event. Of course with anything that would be true with social science and workable and effective for people, it has to have its basis in the Word. I believe that is sound counsel, to be looking at what makes us angry and what is my belief about this and look at the consequences because consequences are both physical and emotional.
We are reminded to be slow to anger. Titus 1:7 reminds us that we as God’s people are called to be slow to anger. I am going to quote some things again from this book Letting Go of Anger and Frustration on page 49.
“Cool things to tell someone when you are angry with someone: Getting angry won’t get me what I want in the long run. Think straight. Keep focused. Stay positive. Keep reason and respect number one. Do not blame. Look for solutions.”
I absolutely love in Genesis 3 Adam’s reaction after the fall when God confronts him about his role and what he did. Adam responded, “That woman you gave me…” A lot of anger and perhaps some blame shifting going on?
Again, we are encouraged not to blame but to look for solutions.
“It is important that we would try to understand another person’s point of view. Another thing to tell ourselves is that this problem is annoying but it does not have to be a big deal. I can choose to look for the humor in the situation. Conflict is a part of life. I can handle this. I do not have to choose to take this personally. What seemed so significant today in this moment will not seem so significant a few months from now. I can choose to lighten up; I may be taking things way to seriously. God can help us to work this out.”
I think that anger is an issue with whom all of us as children of Adam struggle. I think that it is important for us to really examine ourselves and to take a look at our own patterns of how we have processed anger. Do we tend to be very overt and open? Do we tend to yell or scream or rage? I remember that old saying from my childhood, “Anger is just one letter away from Danger.” Again, this is true. We can allow ourselves to totally lose control and do things that we will regret. Again, it is allowing of ourselves. We are still responsible at all points for what we do.
An excellent workbook is called The Anger Workbook written by Dr. Les Carter and Dr. Frank Minirth. Dr. Les Carter is a PhD. and Dr. Minirth is an MD. Basically, it is a 13 step interactive workbook to help you to understand how you tend to process anger. I found this very helpful, so I would like to recommend that book. Another book that I found very helpful and is co-authored by Neil T. Anderson called Getting Anger Under Control. It is excellent, and he is a Christian author with key points in his book.
I would like to take a look at Jesus Christ. I mentioned earlier that we were going to end by taking a look at how Jesus Christ handled situations. I believe that it is key that his last words would be words that he wanted us to have forever. He could have said anything as he was dying on the cross. We all know the importance of last words for those of us that may have lost siblings, parents, loved ones. You tend to remember the last words. What were your last words with that person? It is very spiritually significant that Jesus would say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is available for us to give grace to one another.
In Ephesians chapter four, our starting point, we saw that anger in and of itself is not a negative emotion. It is simply a neutral emotion. How we process that anger can either become sin or it can become an opportunity for us to respond to injustice in the world.
Ephesians 4:29 and 30
(29) Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(30) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Now this is an imperative. This is what we are told to do.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
That is what we are to get rid of, and what are we to do instead?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
How in touch do you choose to be with what your heavenly Father has forgiven you? I am going to assert that if you ask yourself that when you find yourself getting angry or when you find yourself the recipient of someone else’s anger, it will really help to ground you in a Christ-like way of being for the other. Frankly, that is what we need. That is what we need to be for one another. We need to look at one another through Christ’s eyes. Often times, when people are angry, they might rant and rave, they might pout, or they might withdraw, but as you dialogue with that person, you begin to hear the things that you could not have seen or heard without going into dialogue. How often is anger there about an unhealed betrayal? Perhaps it is an abandonment issue of our past.
Perhaps it is fear. Perhaps what the person was angry about is that they feared the loss of relationship. Again, the lovely thing about confrontation is that it brings the two together. We are staked for one another.
We are going to be taking a look at the renewed mind. This is really key. When Gary and I were first married, we lived in what was called an Aphasia Clinic at the University of Michigan. This was a clinic for people who because of heart attacks or strokes had lost their ability to communicate by speech. Interestingly enough what would come back first in their speech pattern were curse words. Is that not an interesting reminder that we are all sons of Adam, and yet the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, invites us in to a life that is much more fulfilling.
Again, I want to encourage you that if you are reading this and perhaps you have had issues with anger and perhaps your biggest issue is forgiving yourself. Maybe you are sitting there and thinking well, I was the perpetrator of rage toward someone else. I raped someone. I murdered someone. Perhaps you are sitting in jail, and you are living through the reality of what had occurred. I want to encourage you because in Jesus Christ we can all have a new beginning. Jesus Christ made himself the sin offering. Nothing is there that you have done that he cannot forgive. Nothing has been done to you that he cannot heal. God’s Word says that you can choose to invite Jesus Christ to become Lord of your life if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, by believing that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that we will have life ever after, life in the age to come. We also at that point receive holy spirit. It is really that holy spirit, that comforter, that guide, that helps us to balance our fleshly sin nature. We have the privilege of integrating body, soul, and spirit, and that can be done.
(15) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
(16) And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.
(17) As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
(18) I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
(19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
(20) Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
That is the reality of the fact that we have a sin nature. It requires a renewed mind which means that we have to rely on the holy spirit within us to help us to change our thinking. How do we do that? The best way would be to expose ourselves to the thinking of Christ through his Words. To have a relationship with the living Word, Jesus Christ through the written Word, the Bible.
(17) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
(18) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
(19) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
(20) On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
(21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We have the privilege and the choice to choose to forgive those who have hurt us in the past. That is something that we can do. I know for myself that as I forgive those who have hurt me in the past, it releases my bitterness. A distinction is there between forgiveness and reconciliation. Sometimes others hurt people. Those people that hurt us may not even be alive anymore, sometimes those people have died or have moved on, yet we can still choose to forgive. In doing that we are allowing Christ to take hold of our hearts in a way that is so, so powerful.
As I close out here and as we as believers continue to walk out and healthily process our anger, I really encourage you to remember the words of our Jesus—forgive them Father for they know not what they do. Be continually mindful of all that our heavenly Father has forgiven us for and to grace one another with this forgiveness. Be willing to confront one another. Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” If someone that you love has hurt you, I challenge you to talk to them about it. Open up dialogue, and in doing so we are able to healthily maintain our relationship and move out together in a community of like-minded believers and bring our Jesus Christ to a world that is lost and needs his help.
Thank you so much and God bless you!