The Captivity of Anger

It’s just one of those days. You wake up in a panic and realize your alarm never went off. You hurriedly jump in the shower only to realize that the water heater is out. You finally get yourself together and jump in the car to race off to work. On the way to work, you have to slam on your brakes because the bozo in front of you doesn’t know how to drive, and now there’s coffee in your lap.

You finally get to work, and that annoying guy that sits next to you wont stop talking and it’s driving. you. nuts. At lunch, your main reprieve from the drudgery of the day, the waitress gets your order wrong. Back at the office, you’re sitting in another boring meeting, and someone else is getting credit for a project you spent the last three months on.

You’re finally on your way home from work and you hit a traffic jam. “Can this day get any worse?!” you exclaim. You’ve finally made it to your neighborhood. You’re finally approaching your house, and you see that the kids left their bikes in the middle of the driveway. Now the anger is finally boiling over. You get out of the car and, less than gently, toss the bikes aside.

As you enter the house, everyone in your path is subject to your rage. Whether or not they’ve spoken a single word to you all day is of no consequence. Everyone is the culprit of your anger, and everyone is going to feel your wrath. Now everyone is mad, and no one knows why. It’s completely misdirected, but it feels good to just be angry, and after all, it wasn’t your fault, so you’re not going to apologize.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve recently had a day like this. You’re not alone. We all get angry. Some of us get angry more often than others, but we’ve all been guilty of it. But why is that? Why does it feel so good to be angry? And what are the consequences of anger?

The Science of Angry

Let’s start with the first part. Why do we get angry? Speaking physiologically, anger is a pretty normal thing. As a matter of fact, an article from Psychology Today says that anger is one of five basic human emotions. Researchers think that it actually serves as a protective response within the human body, helping to activate the “fight” part of the “fight-or-flight” response.

So then, If it’s so bad for us, why does it feel so good to just be angry?

This question is also answered pretty simply by psychologists. Basically, when we get angry, our bodies release a couple of hormones, epinephrine and norepinephrine. The former reacts in our brain similarly to a pain killer, and the latter acts similarly to amphetamines. To put it simply, anger is a drug. And just like a drug, anger has some pretty damaging side effects. Prolonged exposure to the hormones released in anger can actually kill neurons in your brain that affect judgment and short-term memory, and can also contribute to weight gain and a decrease in the effectiveness of your immune system.

But what about some less tangible consequences? What does the Bible tell us about anger? Lots!

Anger in the Bible

Proverbs is full of little “wisdom nuggets” about many topics, and anger is no exception.

“A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated.” Proverbs 14:17 (ESV)

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

And one of my favorites, Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Stepping outside Proverbs, Ecclesiastes 7:9 “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.”

Paul also had some hefty things to say about anger.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul says we are to “Set [our] minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” He goes on to list the things that we should “put away.” The first thing he lists? Anger. Colossians 3:1-11

But you knew all that, right? I mean, did you need your Bible to tell you that anger was bad? You’re a smart cookie, so probably not. But what about the consequences of anger? Does the Bible ever mention that? You betcha!

Look back to Moses in the book of Numbers, and you’ll see a pretty powerful example of what anger can get you.

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 'Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.’ And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.” Numbers 20:7-9

God gives Moses a pretty simple and straightforward command. All he has to do is speak to the rock and it will yield its water. Pretty simple, right? But you have to remember, at this point, Moses has been rockin’ around the desert for many years with the Israelites at this point, and on a number (pun most definitely intended) of occasions, the Israelites has complained to him about their hunger and their thirst and their perceived danger, despite God’s provision for them through it all.

When I read through this part of the Bible, I can’t help but picture my kids on a road trip, somehow needing a restroom break approximately 45 seconds after we leave the driveway, and every 17 minutes thereafter. At a certain point I can’t help but saying “ENOUGH!” And that’s pretty much what Moses does.

Obviously the Bible doesn’t really give us an indication of how he said it, but when I read the next verse, I picture Moses pretty indignant at this point. In verse 10, he says “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Then he strikes the rock with his staff, twice. Here’s where things get heavy — Numbers 20:12 “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

Moses struck the rock out of anger. And he almost certainly felt justified in doing so. It’s easy to imagine he was just trying to make a point. But his fatal flaw was that he let his anger cause him to disobey a direct commandment from God, and as a result, would not get to lead the Israelites into the promised land. Jesus also gave us a powerful word on anger in his Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

But Jesus gives us more. He gives us a solution. A recourse. And a really simple one at that. His solution? Basically, just  say you’re sorry.

The Anger Solution

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:21-24 (ESV)

That solution is beautifully subtle, but in its subtlety, is immensely complex.

Have you ever tried to apologize to someone that made you angry? Remember earlier when we saw how anger acts a lot like a drug? Admitting that you were wrong in your anger is really hard sometimes, but it’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do in order to free ourselves from the bondage of that anger.

Now, think really hard on this one: have you ever successfully apologized to someone for being angry at them? It feels really freeing, doesn’t it? Like you’re releasing a tremendous weight.

If you’re dealing with anger, whether it’s blind, seething rage from the guy that cut you off on the way to work this morning, or if it’s a quiet, ever-burning flame from something that happened in your past, pray today that God would help you reconcile with that person. Not only does scripture command it, but you’ll feel so much better when you’re no longer held hostage by anger.