But Jesus got angry
Mark 3:1-5 Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him. He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts.
Ephesians 4:26 Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.
Hebrews 12:15 Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
James 3:14-15 If you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom.
All my life I’ve been afraid of anger, because in my experience anger was linked to emotional and physical violence. So when I came to this story in Mark, my first instinct was to skip over it in favor of something more positive and cheerful. I could write, for example, about the stunning rainbow that hovered over Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon …
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But God didn’t let me get away with that. In the background of my thoughts, I kept wrestling with the issue of anger and how I would just shrivel up or melt into a puddle on the floor if I perceived Jesus was angry with me.
I am in no way an expert on dealing with anger. Far from it! But here are a few simple guidelines that seem helpful to me at this moment in my journey.
Anger is an emotion we all feel—unless we’re in denial. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. If we don’t give it proper attention, it may instead turn inward and become a “secondary” emotion, hurting us and others through depression, bitterness, apathy, resentment, unhealed grief, or other emotional states. When anger settles in, as part of our emotional furniture, it becomes harmful. Hence the wisdom of Ephesians 4:26.
If we feel anger, we need to pay attention to it. “Primary” emotions, I’m told, surge and then recede in our bodies in about 90 seconds. Until the emotion has passed through, we shouldn’t take any action. But once the emotion has dissipated, we can ask ourselves questions: What was the source of the anger? Against what or whom was it directed? Was it appropriate, i.e. did its intensity match the severity of the provocation? What did I want to do while I was feeling the emotion? Is that action appropriate, i.e. will it reduce or escalate the perceived threat? What else is going on in my life that could intensify the feeling of anger (fear, fatigue, stress, the sense of repeated offense, a feeling of impotence, a narrative I am telling myself about this person or situation …)? Anger can show us a lot about ourselves and the condition of our souls.
Anger is our body’s response to the perception that something is wrong. We need to pay attention to this and decide what to do about it. There is always something we can do about perceived injustice, even if it is “only” relinquishing our pain to God and praying for those who have offended or hurt us. The Scriptures are full of references to God’s justice and the wisdom of entrusting to him those situations we are not properly positioned to do anything about. But often there is something positive we can do, contributing to God’s purposes of healing and redemption, rather than harm and destruction.
The energy of anger propels us to act. This can be a good thing, or it can be terrible. Good actions can be carried out calmly. The impulse of the feeling of anger, though, can often be harmful. Self-control includes hanging in there with the seemingly interminable 90 seconds so we can then evaluate possible actions with our rational brain engaged, not just our impulsive brain. If I yell and hit back when my child yells and hits, for a moment I may feel relief, but the fruit of those actions will damage my child and his or her trust in me.
Thinking about all this took me back to the story in Mark 3, and to the other references cited above. One thought I had (and I would love to hear yours!) is that Jesus’s frustration with the religious leaders opened a window of opportunity for them to see things differently. They placed enforcement of their (mis)interpretation of the law ahead of the wellbeing of one of their congregants. Had their hearts been in tune with God’s loving heart, they could have seen grace in what Jesus did, and wonderful rejoicing could have strengthened all present. Instead, they went away to plot how they could kill Jesus.
Jesus was not for one second out of control of himself and his actions. The religious leaders’ offense had become engrained. Not even Jesus could “make” them change their minds and hearts. Yet he offered them an invitation, through bringing to light the condition of their hearts. An opportunity to repent, to change, to grow. To respond positively to truth.
Your thoughts about this complex topic?