Anger has been a recognized and culturally accepted issue among many men. Our culture is now defining “angry women” as a positive contemporary movement. In my office, anger is one of the most destructive forces I have witnessed in marriage counseling. We all have a certain image of anger that relates to outbursts, force and even injury. But what if I were to tell you that even the most gentle people also tend to harbor and respond to anger in common patterns that ruin relationships? What do we do with this anger issue we see tearing apart our friendships, homes, churches and even our nation? I want to take a brief, general look at a complex issue, hopefully to prompt every believer to take steps to consider this critical subject of anger more closely in the days ahead.
First, we need to understand our general personality or temperament makeup and how it affects anger. Let’s start with a broad (and overly simplified) observation that people fall into two general categories: strong-willed/problem-solvers/leaders and compliant/people-lovers/responders. (There are actually 4 recognized personalities types.) Let’s focus more broadly into two general categories of people that we will call the goal-seekers and the people-lovers. Goal-seekers are “doers,” problem-solvers, leaders, administrators, planners, conflict-solvers and accomplishers; think doctors and nurses, bosses, church overseers, business owners, coaches, administrators, workaholics and “fixers.” People-lovers are gentle, relational, inspirational, merciful, supportive, servant-oriented and peacekeepers; think assistants, healthcare workers, workers with children and senior adults, church deacons and those “everyone loves.” Some well-known goal-seekers were/are Coach Bill Belichick, General George Patton, Martin Luther, Bill Gates and Donald Trump. To bring it closer to home, in our church leadership and staff we would agree that Louis Simpson, John Gill, Larry Shields and I are goal-seekers. Some well-known people seekers were/are Mother Teresa, President George W. Bush, Billy Graham, Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen. (Okay, I didn’t say I endorsed everyone on these lists. Haha). In our church leadership and staff the people-seekers are Doug Burton, Mike Cowart, Justin Green and Paula Compton. Understand that goal-seekers still love people and people-seekers still accomplish goals. But we tend to be leaders or responders based on our personalities: strong-willed or compliant.
Identifying our basic personality or temperament is the first step in understanding how we tend to express and react to anger. The strong-willed goal-seekers often express and confront when angered. They are naturally inclined to “blow up” through yelling, pushing, or aggression, or being opinionated, blunt, forceful, tactless, demanding and repetitive. The compliant people-lovers often deal with anger by stuffing it down, leading to being taken advantage of, physical ailments, avoidance, resentments, withdrawal and eventually the super-sized blowup. Other compliant people-lovers deal with anger by transporting it. They do so by stuffing it down and transporting it either to another time or to other people by not keeping their commitments, being sarcastic and critical, making excuses, avoiding issues, playing the victim and acting out their anger on those more vulnerable or helpless. These negative responses commonly see strong-willed goal-seekers “confront.” The compliant people-lovers either “stuff” or “transport” their anger.
EVERY HUMAN CAN NATURALLY RESPOND TO ANGER IN ALL THESE NEGATIVE WAYS. But our personality/temperament makes us especially prone to respond in the ways I have described above. Did you know that anger is generally a secondary emotion? Anger is usually a response to primary emotions of hurt coming from 1) relational or emotional neglect, desires or damage, 2) unmet personal desires, goals or expectations and/or 3) personal insecurities, sense of failure, or a lack of self-worth. I think it is healthy for adults to pray and identify those incidents in childhood or adolescence that were never resolved and have been used by Satan to “kill, steal and destroy” us. Unresolved hurts and a lack of biblical instruction and wisdom often results in anger, especially toward those relationships closest to us. This can easily become a pattern our sinful flesh turns to. The Apostle Paul stated in II Corinthians 10:3-4 that we are to , “. . . demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” That means that when we are angry we are to look at the emotions/thoughts that are raising a “red flag” about something in our heart. Then we are to take those thoughts captive to obedience to Christ.
So should we ever be angry? Absolutely. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil an opportunity.” That instructs us not to sleep until we let God identify our personal unmet needs or longings, and then to take those captive to faith and obedience to Christ. It means a husband or wife, angry at their spouse, controls their anger and then determines what they are feeling so angry about. Do I have an unmet longing for respect from a parent/parents? Do I have the unbiblical belief that my spouse is to serve me rather than walk beside me? Do I have feelings of inadequacy at work or among friends that leads me to demand I am to be revered at all times at home?
Anger is an opportunity to evaluate how I am responding to friends, coworkers or family who hurt my feelings or make me feel inferior. Am I withdrawing, growing resentful toward others and more angry at myself? Do I struggle with ulcers, headaches, depression, panic attics and such? Do I procrastinate and delay performing tasks asked of me to get back at others? Am I critical and slanderous toward people who I feel hurt me? Do I withdraw and clam up in order to hold a sense of power over someone? Or do I take my anger out on my children?
Natural anger is destructive, carnal and used by Satan to kill, steal and destroy relationships. Spiritual and mature responses to anger start with stepping back and admitting the anger. Then we are to identify the primary emotion and consider its cause. And finally, we are to biblically respond by faith in Christ and obedience to His commands and instructions. And by the way, when anyone is hurting the helpless, the innocent, or the child, Christians should feel a righteous anger and act on behalf of the victims. If Christians see other believers mocking or disobeying God and not keeping His commands, those who are spiritual but experiencing anger should deal with their anger first, and then gently confront the other believer with their sin, show loving acceptance of them, and seek to restore them when they repent. Jesus was angry toward the greedy leaders of the Temple and reacted strongly, turning over their money tables and throwing them out of the Temple. Jesus exposed the godless religious leaders, publicly comparing them to whitewashed tombs, clean-looking on the outside while holding death on the inside.
Christians, we should all seek to understand how anger can lead us to righteousness and growth in Christ. “Be angry and yet do not sin . . . !” (A great book on this topic is “Overcoming Emotions that Destroy” by Chip Ingram and Dr. Becca Johnson.)