What makes you angry?
I put out this simple question on Facebook and Twitter the other week and clearly touched a live wire.
Apostrophes in wrong places. Being patronised. Bureaucracy. Child abuse. People who ignore the pregnant woman on the tube. Homophobia. Patchy wi-fi. And my favourite: dog walkers who take the trouble to scoop their dog’s poo into a plastic bag – and then fling it into a tree. Why do they do this?
Anger spans from mild irritation to uncontrollable rage; from the trivial to the fundamental. It can be directed towards our neighbour, ourselves or abstract situations. Anger can show up quickly, as a kneejerk reaction, a bitchy comment, a thoughtless email bashed out – or it can fester and eat away at us. In popular culture, nearly every action or thriller movie is based on anger, whether fast-flying punches or slow-cooked revenge.
Paul writes: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger… forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Simple: if God, who has every right to be angry with our pettiness (and frankly, let’s name it: sin), can forgive us, then we must end hostilities with our equally undeserving annoying / selfish / fill-in-your-own-blank, neighbour through forgiving them.
Still fuming? Well, we really need to receive that forgiveness in the first place, if we’re to offer it out. Most days I let the sun go down, while I’m still angry with my inadequacies. As my head hits the pillow, I rehearse all the ways in which I’ve failed that day and I fall asleep feeling cross with myself. How different I would be, if I laid those frustrations before God each night and believed the words: “Christ has forgiven you”.
We need to handle that destructive anger towards ourselves and others with care. But flip anger over, and we discover that it has an amazingly constructive power. Anger reveals to us the things that are not as they should be. So I also want to say: let’s get angrier.
We may shun that inaccurate portrayal of God with a temper and a fiery pit, but God is angry loads of the time in the Bible. God doesn’t observe rape and torture and poverty and war coolly from a distance, unmoved. God hates injustice. He loathes it when the rich take what belongs to those who are poor. He fumes over exploitation. Because God loves us, how could he possibly not be angry at what is happening to his children.
“Be angry, but do not sin,” says Paul. Whatever big issues make your blood boil – such as slavery or financial inequality or abuse of women – the world needs your anger to be channelled into making a difference. Our anger is too easily splintered – a frosty word here or a tetchy text there – it fritters away the potential of anger that instead can be harnessed for meaningful social change.
So let’s dial down our destructive anger, by receiving and giving forgiveness on a daily basis. But let’s amplify the constructive anger towards situations of injustice, allowing our hot heads and fiery hearts to provoke us into prayer and action.