Anger: Would You Push the Button?
Tony Cooke

A “Psychology Today” survey asked, “If you could secretly push a button and thereby eliminate any person with no repercussions to yourself, would you press that button?” 69% of men and 56% of women responding to this poll said yes! I wonder how many pastors would like to have this “button” for just a few minutes?

On a not-so-humorous note, I remember reading an article about a Baptist pastor who resigned from his apparently successful ministry and indicated that he had experienced a crisis of “emotion and energy.” As he described his internal collapse, he stated, “I began to strangle on my anger…”

When I read that, I thought of an angry preacher in Scripture: Jonah. Even though Jonah experienced outward success, internal issues were also brewing. After referring to the positive outcome of his ministry campaign in Ninevah, Scripture observes, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). Shortly after this, Jonah said to God (4:9), “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” There is an old saying: “Depression is anger turned inward.” At least in Jonah’s case, that old saying appears to be true.

We sometimes only think of anger in terms of those that have an explosive personality, but some people live at a “low boil.” They’ve learned how to project composure, but internally, they are angry. Others exhibit passive-aggressive tendencies, bringing frustration to others through their covert procrastination, stubbornness, and undermining behavior. Christians, especially ministers, are not “supposed” to be angry, and therefore, often end up suppressing feelings of anger and putting on a professional front for the public.

Where does anger come from?

Les Carter and Frank Minirth, in “The Anger Workbook,” called anger “the emotion of self preservation” and said it relates to our sense of personal worth, essential needs, and basic convictions. They state that we are most likely to become angry when:

* We perceive rejection or invalidation from people. In other words, we feel that our dignity has been demeaned and that we are not being respected.

* We are weary of having to live without our basic needs being noticed by others. The resulting anger is a type of protest for our needs not being met.

* We believe that others are insensitive to our most basic convictions. For example, we take pride in our work, but co-workers are careless and apathetic.

Other factors would include pride, impatience, unrealistic expectations, fear, a sense of inferiority, and loneliness. Regardless of the source, there is a type of anger that is harmful to us. Various studies have shown not only the emotional toll from harbored anger, but also the physical damage (increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, etc.).

Spiritual and Ministerial Ramifications?

No doubt Moses faced enormous frustrations in dealing with his congregation, but he paid a great price because of anger. At one point, God told Moses to “speak to the rock” and it would bring forth water. Instead, Moses acted out of anger, and said, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” The next verse says, “Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod…” It was at this point that God told Moses and Aaron that they would not be bringing the people into the Promised Land (see Numbers 20).

Psalm 106:32-33 says “They angered Him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses on account of them; Because they rebelled against His Spirit, so that he spoke rashly with his lips.” What a price he paid because anger governed him instead of God’s Word!

James 1:20 (NLT) says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”

* “Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.” (Benjamin Franklin)

* “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” (Marcus Aurelius)

* A lady once came to Billy Sunday and tried to rationalize her angry outbursts. “There’s nothing wrong with losing my temper,” she said. “I blow up, and then it’s all over.” “So does a shotgun,” Sunday replied, “and look at the damage it leaves behind!”

But is All Anger Bad?

“Human anger” won’t get us to the right place, but is there truly such a thing as “righteous indignation?” We know that Jesus experienced anger (Mark 3:1-5), but it caused him to act constructively. Another time Jesus became angry in response to spiritual corruption (John 2:13-17). Paul said, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). Is there a positively motivating type of response we can have to anger?

* Dr. David Seamands said, “Anger is a divinely implanted emotion. Closely allied to our instinct for right, it is designed to be used for constructive spiritual purposes. The person who cannot feel anger at evil is a person who lacks enthusiasm for good. If you cannot hate wrong, it’s very questionable whether you really love righteousness.”

* “The world needs anger. The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.” (Bede Jarrett)

* “The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way and at the right time and for the right length of time, is commended.” (Aristotle)

* Martin Luther said, “I never work better than when I am inspired by anger. When I am angry I can write, pray and preach well; for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”

What Do We Do With Anger?

Whether your tendency is to turn anger inward and hurt yourself, or to turn anger outward and hurt others, we all need God’s help in dealing with anger. A good example of constructively managing anger was demonstrated years ago during a Knicks-Bullets NBA playoff game. One of the Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) came up from behind the great Walt Frazier and punched him in the face. The referee called a foul on Frazier. Frazier didn’t complain. His expression never changed. He simply called for the ball and put in seven straight shots to win the game, an amazing display of productive anger.

May God help us be honest about any anger we face and give us grace to deal with it positively, productively, and constructively.