Why anger just might be a force for good
Church was really good yesterday, and that’s a phrase I don’t throw around arbitrarily. I took some notes and looked at my husband, nodding my head in that mmmm, testify! way we are wont to do. I closed my eyes as Scripture was read from The Message and I wrote down the references so I could go back and reread them myself.
As we headed out the door, one of the church leaders stopped me, ‘That would make a great topic for a Vox article, don’t you think?’
Yes, yes I do.
And what was the topic? Anger. Our friend brought the house down with a poignantly charged sermon on anger; anger with God and anger with each other.
We’re in the Psalms, you see, and there’s loads in there on anger. David wondering where God is, when he’s going to show up, what exact kind of justice a faithful servant of the Lord Most High can expect when it comes to his enemies.
Psalm 109 is a powerhouse of one such instance. Wailing might be a good word for it: David, wailing before the Lord, asking Him to smite his enemies. The leader’s voice rose in waves as she read some of David’s very strongly worded requests for vengeance:
‘Chop down his family tree
so that nobody even remembers his name.
But erect a memorial to the sin of his father,
and make sure his mother’s name is there, too…’
I admit to feeling pretty great about myself, at least compared to the above. I’m not in a super angry place at the moment, which is saying something as I have three children and have somehow managed to volunteer for not one, but FOUR maths mornings in First Class Green. Still, I like to think I’m keeping my cool with life, in general.
Until I think about the US Presidential election. Or Syria. Or Russia criminalizing evangelism. Or victim shaming. Or patriarchy. Or dead black men, one after the other after the other after the other.
For a little bit of context, I decided to Google angry, looking up news articles which featured this potent adjective. Here are just a few headlines from this week:
- ‘You've got the pot of money, spend some and help people. That's what you've got to do, because we've had lots of wars in this country and I do not like that, Theresa May. I'm very angry.’ - Girl, 5, gives PM a telling-off about the homeless in video that goes viral
- ‘Angry’ French education minister hits back at Pope Francis
- ‘We run the streets’: Video shows angry mob attacking CHP patrol car with officer still inside
- Anger rooms are all the rage in America (this is news to me!)
Turns out, we’ve a lot to be angry over. Even me.
I wake up shaking with anger over a man who may be the next president of my passport country. I can’t listen to his voice, don’t want to turn on the news, for even in Ireland, the coverage is ubiquitous. I’m angry at smugglers who charge a life’s savings to transport young children in dangerous waters. I’m angry at the incredibly speedy rise in housing prices, wringing my hands over young families who can’t afford to pay rent or are evicted from dodgy motel rooms.
I’m actually very angry. But who is it I’m aiming this anger towards? A man with buildings laden with gold? The “system?” Bureaucracy? The exchange rate? Am I angry at God? Does He seem powerless to me? Unjust? Absent? And what am I doing about this anger, really? Praying, listening and advocating?
My notes from Sunday actually don’t give me an answer, and when I think back on it now, it’s only gentle words I hear, a plea to go ahead and give out to God. To not hide myself from Him. To lay it out and ask, when when when?
Canadian author and speaker Sarah Bessey writes ‘Sitting with my anger for a while, praying [through] it, instead of lashing out immediately might just be a spiritual discipline for these days…’ – Mmmmm, testify! – ‘It's often an invitation from the Holy Spirit - to do something in response or even to repent.’
But the rub, she says – and our church leader affirms – is not to sin or dehumanize, ‘but to let it propel us towards walking in the ways of Jesus!’
When I wrote last month about questions to consider in times of life transition, we could just as easily add, ‘What makes you angry?’ If we’re paying attention and educating ourselves, crying out to God and waiting for an answer, He will (eventually) give us one.
What we do next with that anger is up to us.