Respectable Sin #9: AngerAugust 5, 2008
(Ninth in a series of my thoughts on the book Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges… long overdue)
It’s not too surprising that anger, the most common and ugliest of emotions, occupied two chapters in this book rather than the customary single chapter. What was surprising was the author’s statement that no one causes us to be angry. No, he says that the cause of our anger lies deep within us — usually pride, selfishness or a desire to control. Examples? We get angry because someone has mistreated us. We get angry because we don’t get our way. We get angry as a response to someone else’s anger.
And while we cannot prevent these annoying, even infuriating, situations from popping up in our lives, we can prevent anger from being our response when they do occur. The author suggests going through a sort of mental checklist, asking yourself the following questions:
- How would God have me respond in this situation?
- How can I best glorify God by my response?
- Do I believe that this difficult situation or this unjust treatment is under the sovereign control of God and that in His infinite wisdom and goodness He is using these difficult circumstances to conform me more to the likeness of Christ?
If, however, we do succumb to anger, the author suggests immediately recognizing and acknowledging our anger and the sinfulness of it. Then we should ask ourselves why we became angry. If it was an issue such as pride, we need to repent not just of the anger, but of the pride that caused it as well. We need to forgive the person whose words or actions triggered our anger, and ask them to forgive us if our anger was outwardly expressed.
I’ve never experienced being angry with God, although I know people who have. Quite often, when someone admits that he/she is angry with God, a well-meaning individual will state something to the effect of, “That’s okay. God can handle it.” The author, however, states that it is never okay to be angry with God. Why?
Anger is a moral judgment, and in the case of God, it accuses Him of wrongdoing. It accuses God of sinning against us by neglecting us or in some way treating us unfairly. It also is often a response to our thinking that God owes us a better deal in life than we are getting.
If we find ourselves angry with God, we must repent, then pray that he will forgive us and help us trust Him.
The second chapter on anger dealt with “the weeds of anger” — resentment, bitterness, enmity/hostility, grudge-bearing, and strife. Anger that is held onto will evolve into these uglier, more dangerous sins.
How do we deal with anger so that it does not become one of the above “weeds?” First, we must realize that God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to us, although at times he does allow them. So, why does he allow them? For our benefit. The author cites the example of Joseph, who was mistreated by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of a crime he did not commit, and imprisoned for years. Only after going through all that did he receive the wonderful blessings God had for him. But the wondrous part of Joseph’s life is that he maintained a positive attitude and recognized God’s hand in his circumstances. (Genesis 50:20)
Further, we should pray that God will enable us to grow in love. As Peter wrote, “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Now, if you’re like me, you’ve heard that a hundred times or more but not really thought very much about what it means. Or maybe you have and I’m just weird that way. Regardless, the author explains quite well by saying that “love enables us to overlook a lot of sinful actions of other people.”
Further, the author cites the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and states
We are to love one another earnestly; that is, we are to pursue it diligently. The love that overlooks an offense doesn’t just happen. It comes as we pursue it diligently in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
(This reinforces what I wrote about Christian love the other day quite nicely, I think!)
Finally, we are to forgive as God as forgiven us. Citing the parable of the unforgiving servant, the author points out that God has forgiven us SO MUCH… who are we to refuse to extend one iota of that forgiveness to someone else? We are to say, “God that was a terrible wrong against me, but I am the ten thousand talent debtor. His sin against me was nothing compared to my sin against You, and because You have forgiven me, I, from my heart, forgive that person.”