the danger and folly of human anger

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James 1:19-21

Moses’s story in Scripture is fascinating. He did seem to have an anger issue. Though at a certain point it seems to have abated, or wasn’t a factor. He had killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave, and had to escape from Egypt. Then he was forty years in the wilderness before God appeared to him in the burning bush, and called him to go back to Egypt because God was about to rescue his people. In Numbers 12, Moses is called the most humble man on earth, not the meekest, though being humble is not far removed from meekness. Moses displays some anger; he broke the stone tablets when seeing the Israelites worshiping the golden calf. But by and large it seems like anger is not something which characterizes him. Until near the end, when in anger he strikes the rock, after God had told him to speak to that rock, the water coming for the Israelite community, but Moses himself barred from entering the Promised Land because of his disobedience of God’s command.

I think I’m much more helpful to myself and others when I largely avoid anger altogether. In this life there’s plenty of things to get angry about. We probably get angry about this and that throughout the day, small burst of anger, like when people sit at green lights probably glued to their phones. Or when machines are not running well at work. We might dismiss such anger as not only insignificant, but all well and good, or at least okay, no problem. But we might be missing the opportunity to discipline ourselves to avoid the more serious and consequential outbursts, which could bring harm to others, damage relationships, or just put us on a trek where we really aren’t seeing straight.

Nowadays in the United States it’s easy for people to get upset and uptight about this or that, usually this and that, with all that is happening in the political realm along with the deep division. As servants of Christ and the gospel, we as God’s people need to be different. We need to be meek as in gently depending on God, not self-assertive (see NET Bible footnote on Numbers 12:3). Anger means we’re taking the bull by the horns either in action or attitude. We think we have it. Refusing such because we’re trusting in God, not in ourselves, and realizing that we are limited is the route of wisdom.

Human anger does more harm than whatever good might be accomplished. When we are angry, we’re not to let the sun go down on it, in other words we’re never to harbor anger (Ephesians). In James’s words, we’re to be slow to anger. So it’s not like we’re to avoid it altogether. But it seems to me that it ought to be rare, so that we do well to sidestep it as much as possible. Vengeance is God’s, not our own. We’re to continue to love, even our enemies.

I find that when I speak out of the deepest convictions on matter with great urgency, too much anger is too often mixed into that. And it’s neither helpful for myself, nor the one I’m talking to. Rather, I could say much the same thing, but in a quiet, humble tone, which is nevertheless firm in seeking to stand for truth. But is dependent on God, and humble toward others in a kind of interdependent give and take.

Interestingly, though Jesus did get angry in driving out the merchants out of the temple, by and large I see the trait of restraint marked in his life. Being God as well as human, whatever anger he did have was purely righteous. Yet in exchanges with the religious leaders in John’s gospel account, I find time and again that he is most restrained, and probably so because he was so dependent on the Father. I do hesitate to point to Jesus, because even though he is the one we’re to follow, and we’re being changed into his likeness, Jesus as God has complete self-control in perfect wisdom. I doubt that we can ever say that about ourselves in this life, except when the Spirit markedly is taking over in a given situation, so as to practically carry us through.

At any rate, this is a lesson I am trying to learn and cement into my life. Beginning how I react to this and that, the small and larger things. In and through Jesus.

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