Even as a very young child I had the idea that anger was not only wrong, it was dangerous. I’m not exactly sure where I got that idea, but I suspect it was from watching an adult get furiously angry and then lashing out – either with physical violence or with words that hurt just as much. When anger erupts that fiercely and abruptly you just never know what might happen or who might get hurt or what long-term damage is being done. It’s dangerous.
That’s a scary load for a child to carry around. I don’t remember ever acting out in that manner myself, but I do remember feeling furiously angry about something and immediately being scared of myself – scared that I would do or say something that could not be undone and that would hurt me and others.
So I denied my anger. When it was impossible to deny that I was angry I would deny the depth of my anger. I would pretend that whatever it was that made me so angry was just a trivial thing and I had already forgiven it and forgotten it. But I hadn’t. It was right there inside me, smoldering, festering, not going away.
I now understand that anger is not the embodiment of evil. It does not have a life or a mind of its own. Anger is an emotion. Everyone feels angry sometimes. It is a legitimate response. We feel what we feel. There is nothing wrong with feeling anger. When anger is justified it would be foolish to ignore it.
Some ways of reacting to anger are more appropriate than others. It is appropriate to treat others with respect for their humanity as you disagree with them or tell them to stop what they are doing or saying, even if they are not showing you that same respect. That is a lot easier said than done.
Okay, Confession: a lot of my anger arises out of situations in which I or someone I care about have been hurt, whether physically or emotionally or both. What I really want when I am that angry is revenge. I want that person or that group to suffer as I have suffered. I want them to be forced to struggle as I have struggled. I want them to get what I think they deserve. I want revenge, and that is scary.
See what I mean ? And it’s all the more scary if you know just how clever and resourceful I actually am. I could probably make that revenge happen if I put my mind to it.
Today’s lesson is Matthew 5: 20-26. The little subheading in my Bible says: Concerning Anger. If you are thinking, “Uh oh,” you are right on target. This is part of Jesus famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus is saying if you are angry, go settle it and make peace. You’ll be sorry if you don’t. Anything you leave hanging over someone else’s head will be hanging over your own head.
He doesn’t say that anger is alive. He doesn’t say that anger is scary. He doesn’t say IF you ever get angry. He says don’t be a hypocrite. Your righteousness has to be more than the Scribes and Pharisees. You will be judged not just for breaking the 10 Commandments, but for any grievance between you and someone else. Go settle it and reconcile.
We have to acknowledge our anger and then let it go, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept bad behavior, especially continuing bad behavior. Some things needs to be stopped. Some people need to be stopped. Some long-standing traditions and attitudes need to be stopped and changed.
God does not believe in revenge. God does believe in justice, but the good news for all of us is that the justice God metes out is not what we deserve. It is what we need. God gives us – not necessarily what we want, but what we need. When God calls us to work for justice, God is calling us to work for what we and others need – what we need to be whole physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Gerard Kelly (under the username @twitturgies) reminds us that “God is perfect in provision; generous in judgment and in all things just. Just in time. Just what’s needed. Just enough.”