Recently, we stood helplessly by as we watched a dear family tragically lose their husband/father. He had so many years left, but an accident took this hero’s life. I’ve hugged his wife and children, and looked deeply into the eyes of his father – an older gentleman who said to me, He survived Afghanistan, but gets killed at home. He died in action, serving his country, but where does that leave his family? I held his father’s hand in both of mine and told him how sorry I was. I assured him we were praying for strength and peace during this difficult time. He looked into my eyes and said, I’m trying to be as strong as I can.
There are so many circumstances in this world that bring us pain, sorrow and hurt. Sometimes, the outcome is evident through long-suffering. Sometimes, it comes in one phone call. Whether it is divorce, unemployment, rejection of endless degrees, a wayward child, victimization, losing a house, suffering from an illness or watching someone we love suffer, there are scores of reasons why this world is unfair.
When unfair comes knocking on our door, where can we hide? Nowhere. It finds us – try as we may to run.
God designed our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits with buffers. In most times, if the enormity of a situation came at us 100% full-on, we probably couldn’t survive it. As I spoke to my teen friend whose father died, I thought to myself (having suffered parent loss as a teen myself) You have no idea how this will affect your life – for the rest of your life.
To absorb the implications of what has happened all at once would overtake us, and we would wash away like a footprint in the sand. Although God designed a perfect world, in His omnipotent knowledge He knew Adam and Eve would sin. He knew before He created time that this world would need a Savior, and He knew that Savior would be His only Son.
Our spirits have eternal life through Christ when we accept Him as our Lord and receive forgiveness for our sins. But, many of us still have lives to lead, unlike the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus reassured the man he would be with Him in Paradise. We, for better or worse, must still wrestle the 24/7 bestowed upon us. It is at this point that brought me to write this post…the wrestling.
My family has prayed for our friends every day since their husband/father died. However, one prayer caught my full attention. One of my children prayed, Lord, please help them not to be angry. Being angry at You is wrong. Please help them not sin by being angry.
Hmm. I wonder what train of thought brought this up? God gave us a gift by allowing us to feel anger.
Anger is an emotion. A feeling. It is a release valve to the pressure, tension, and even confusion, we may feel during emotional or intense situations. Anger is as normal as feeling happy or sad. Our bodies physically feel the effects of circumstances, and like lightening, our anger is a channel in which to release adrenaline and chemicals in the brain so we don’t explode (well, not literally, but we may feel like we can sometimes!).
Emotionally, anger helps keeps feelings flowing. It’s like a lubricant to gears. When we stuff our natural emotion of anger down inside us, it rots. When it rots, it becomes bitter and hardens our hearts. Anger gives us the emotional courage to confront the situation, say what needs to be said, or do what needs to be done, in order to maintain a healthy relationship with the world and with ourselves.
I think what my child was getting at is something, I believe, is often misunderstood about the Bible. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
The first part of this passage, “In your anger do not sin” comes from Psalm 4:4, “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah”
David may simply be saying here, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. After all, it’s better to be silent than say something we will regret. And that is Paul’s point in Ephesians. Anger is not the sin. It’s what we do with it that gets us into trouble. In action, word or thought, we have the choice to allow ourselves to be angry for a time, letting our physical bodies release, our minds decompress, and our emotions ride the waves – or act upon it in a sinful way albeit passively or aggressively. Passively – by way of withholding communication (the silent treatment), withholding forgiveness when someone asks us for it of themselves, or any refusal on our part that denies progress in the situation because of bitterness, unforgiveness, hate, etc. This doesn’t apply when people simply need time. Of course, we are not vending machines that can produce upon demand. We need time to heal. It is when sin stands in the way of our progress that needs to be held accountable.
Take James 1:19-20. It admonishes us, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Before we cry foul, let’s look at what the anger means in this particular passage. In Strong’s Greek Hebrew Dictionary (via www.mystudybible.com), the word anger comes from the Hebrew word orge and means “violent passion (ire, or [justifiable] abhorrence); by implication punishment :- anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath.”
But, the word anger in Psalm 4:4 is different. The Hebrew word orgizo comes from the word orge and means “to provoke or enrage; become exasperated.”
Holman New Testament Commentary Vol. 8 explains, “Sometimes a Christian may legitimately become angry. Jesus became angry at times. In those times we must be extra careful how we act, for anger gives no excuse to sin.”
The Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary phrases Ephesians 4:26-27 this way, “Take heed of anger and ungoverned passions. If there is just occasion to express displeasure at what is wrong, and to reprove, see that it be without sin. We give place to the devil, when the first motions of sin are not grievous to our souls; when we consent to them; and when we repeat an evil deed. This teaches that as sin, if yielded unto, lets in the devil upon us, we are to resist it, keeping from all appearance of evil.”
Let’s compare two situations – Jonah and Lazarus. Jonah was called by God to do something he didn’t want to do, with people he didn’t want to be anywhere near. He was stoking mad that God had compassion on this brood of ignorant souls. Jonah was judgmental and hard-hearted and thought he knew better than God. I’ll skip the story in its entirety for the sake of time, but it is fascinating. This is the so-called dramatic ending of the four short chapters that make up the entire book…
Jonah chapter 4, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
4 But the Lord replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
The word anger used in this passage is from the Greek word hara. Strong’s defines it as to glow or grow warm; figurative (usually) to blaze up, of anger, zeal, jealousy :- be angry, burn, be displeased, earnestly, fret self, grieve, be (wax) hot, be incensed, kindle, very, be wroth.”
I have always wondered what happened to Jonah. We, by default, want a happy ending. We look for it in movies, plays, books, and in our own lives. We need closure and peace, and our moral bookends of the good guy wins and the bad guy gets what’s coming to him are what makes the story in between tolerable. Here, Jonah’s account just fades off. His last words recorded in the most complete account of history ever written were, “I am angry enough to die.” (verse 9)
That does not sound at all like Psalm 4:4 or Ephesians 4:26-27. In fact, it sounds more like the Israelites in Hosea 7:6, “Their hearts are like an oven; they approach him with intrigue. Their passion smolders all night; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire.”
Then there is Lazarus. Brother of the well-known sisters, Mary and Martha. In John 11, Lazarus died. Jesus knows exactly what has happened and what will happen, but the details of this account twinge my heart because most, if not all of us, have either been Mary or Martha or both at some point in our lives when pain overcame us.
John 11 tells us that basically Jesus had more than enough time to get to Lazarus before Lazarus finally died. Verses 18-19 even tell us this, “Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.”
What would be Jesus’ reason for His delay? Verse 4 answers, “When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’” And in verses 14-15, “So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’”
Okay…are you hanging with me? We are at the heart of the point of this post. Read verses 20-21 slowly, “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
These two women are famous for their account of Martha being too busy to listen to Jesus, while Mary sat at His feet. Many of us can relate. But, we can also relate to them now.
Mary, knowing full-well Jesus has arrived, doesn’t go out to meet Him. The same woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Did she love Jesus? Yes. So, why the silence now?
Martha, more spirited than her sister, met Jesus and confronted Him, if I may.
We’re going deeper now. Jesus called for Mary personally. Martha went to Mary and told her Jesus was asking for her.
Verses 29-32, “When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there. 32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Once she knew Jesus was asking for her, she ran to Him and was able to speak from her heart.
So how does this account relate to Jonah’s because nowhere does it say the words anger or angry. Or does it?
How would you feel if Jesus were walking this earth today and your loved one needed life-or-death healing, and you texted, emailed and left a voicemail on Jesus’ iPhone asking Him to immediately come only a short distance – and He is a no-show. Not only that, He doesn’t return your text, email or voicemail, and stays 2 more days where He is – just a short distance away. Then, your loved one dies. He or she actually dies. There is, at this point, no happy ending, the good guy (your loved one a.k.a. Lazarus) didn’t win and the bad guy (death) got his way.
How would we feel?
If we are gut-wrenchingly honest, we’d be angry at Jesus. Right? He knows us. He knows the need. He knows He can help. But, He didn’t show up. He didn’t heal. He didn’t even return our phone call.
Mary sinks into herself and stays inside. She can’t find it in herself to go meet Jesus. We can probably fill in the adjectives she is feeling as we relate.
Martha makes no bones about it. She didn’t even let Jesus get into the village. On the contrary, she met Him outside the village and told Him outright how she felt. However, she did with respect and reverence. She never forgot who He is – Lord. She followed up her emotional outburst with, “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (Verse 22)
Mary, once told Jesus wanted to see her, ran to Him and told Him the same exact emotional eruption except she did it on her knees. Both women were thinking the same thing, but they went about it in different ways depending on their personalities.
How did Jesus react? Did He shun them? Did He smite them and banish them from heaven? Did He lecture them on how to behave in their time of deepest grief? Did He reject them and walk away? Did He ignore them? Did He grow furious at them, point His finger at them, and call on God’s angels to punish them? Did He stop loving them?
How did Jesus feel over their words? “When Jesus saw (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” (Verse 33)
How did Jesus react? What did He do? “Jesus wept.” (Verse 35)
He wept. He felt their pain. Jesus was 100% man and 100% God. He knew how the story would end, but in that moment, He willingly climbed down into their emotional pit and felt their pain with them.
Indeed, Jesus climbs down into our emotional pits so He can bring us out of them.
God is a gracious, loving God. Jesus knows our sorrows – He’s been there. He lived on this earth and felt natural emotions including happiness, sadness and yes, anger.
Hebrews 4:14-16 is one of the most comforting Scriptures in the Bible. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Anger. It is one of the 5 responses in crisis and grief. It is a God-given gift to be angry so we can channel the physical strain (headaches, digestive issues, heart issues, teeth clinching, nail biting, eyelash plucking, comfort eating, deliberate starving) pressure that happens when life deals us pain and suffering. Anger channels our adrenaline so we can sleep at night, keep our heads from spinning off into orbit, and gives us courage for self-preservation in overwhelming times. It keeps emotions flowing as we wrestle with shock & denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance of a situation beyond our control.
Why would God create the emotion of anger for our physical, emotional and mental selves, but forbid it for our sprits which are eternal? I believe the answer is in Psalm 4:4 – in your anger do not sin. It never said not to be angry. It doesn’t promise we won’t ever be angry. It says WHEN we are angry do not sin.
So why don’t we bring our anger to God? Wow, that’s a whole other post, but suffice it to say our upbringing, personalities, life experience, and how we view God all affects how we interact with Him.
For me, I grew up in a house with a step father who did not tolerate anything from me and dictated a very unhealthy fear of male authority. Is it easy for me to come to God with my anger? No way! It has taken me years to get to a point of God convincing me (through reading the Bible, His faithfulness to me and the testimonies of others) that I come before the throne and pour all of me out to Him – the good, the bad and the ugly. The confidence Hebrews 11 speaks of is a work in progress in me, but God is a patient God who loves us with an everlasting love.
Do we think He can’t handle our anger? That He isn’t strong enough? That He doesn’t understand or care about our pain? That we will be punished for being honest with Him?
Quite the opposite, Jesus intercedes on our behalf. He could have gone to Bethany and healed Lazarus and left. But, not only did He listen to Martha, but he called for Mary. They were important to Him. How they were doing was important to Him. So are you.
Once, I was so upset about something, all the way home, as I drove alone, I yelled and cried and yelled some more to God. Not at, but to Him (there is a difference). I told Him how I felt and the whole nine yards. I was ready to implode. It was only after that did He bring a peace that passes my understanding about the circumstance. He knew I needed to flush, to vent, to purge – and He allowed me grace and room and privacy to do so. I did not sin in my anger, but I fully released how I was feeling. It was one of the most healing experiences I’ve ever felt and that peace remains with me today.
God knows what we need, and He gave us a tool belt full of emotional equipment to help us survive, and thrive, in this broken world. Anger is a tool, and used properly, it can bring us to closer intimacy with God. Anger, managed properly and without sinning, keeps communication open. Whether we are Martha who has no problem stating the issue, or Mary, who needs reassurance it’s okay, Jesus wants a close relationship with us – and He knows by personal experience how hard life on earth can be.
It’s our choice to be hard-hearted and bitter like Jonah and the Israelites in Hosea 7:6, but sure enough, circumstances in life will continue to make us angry. Perhaps like Moses when he was asked by God to lead the Israelites although he had a speech impediment and felt like he couldn’t do the job; like Naomi when her husband and sons died leaving her no plan for provision; like Samuel when Israel demanded a king from him; like Nehemiah when he gazed upon the broken walls of his home – Jerusalem; like Dinah’s brothers when she was raped by a foreigner; like Joseph when his marriage plans to Mary took a left turn; or like Elijah as he, literally, ran for his life from Jezebel.
God looks at our hearts, our whole person. He knows if we are shaking an angry, sinful fist at Him or using the tool of appropriate anger to uncover our hurt and pain that we desperately need healed. He is gracious, but He is holy. He deserves our respect, holy fear and reverence. He is…God.
He is also Abba Father – Daddy. He knows when we just can’t take it anymore and need a safe place to vent, to purge, to release. He is a good listener. The best. He catches our tears of frustration in His hands and doesn’t use them against us. He is mercy. He is peace. He is rest.
1 Samuel 16:7, “…The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
1 Chronicles 28:9, “…acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you…”
Anger. It’s a tricky thing. It can be helpful or hurtful. Hindering or healing. Understanding why we feel we can or cannot bring God our anger is a step closer to Him in itself. Just keep walking. Seek Him, and He will show you the way.