Friday, November 9, 2012

Chapter 3 - Peace on Earth?

The proper place for anger

“For the churning of milk produces butter,
And pressing the nose brings forth blood;
So the churning of anger produces strife.”[1]

What makes you angry?
Is your anger most related to how the boss treats you? The insensitivity of your coworkers? The lack of understanding your spouse has for you? Your kids’ lack of respect or their laziness? Traffic? I am guessing it is mostly about how other people treat you.
Our anger is closely related to our fear.  Often we are angry about whatever we are afraid of.  Anger covers the fear.  We come on strong and push back on the situation or person who scares us and it protects us from confronting our fear.  In that way, anger is destructive to the person who exhibits it, because it covers the underlying emotion and prevents us from having to deal with it.  Without the anger, we could meet our fears head on, but anger prevents us from doing so.

Did you ever flare up at someone you love, quickly and without warning; and then be amazed at yourself? “Where did that come from?” you wonder. And when you examine the situation, the anger rose from something the other person did or said that triggered old fears – maybe honest fears for how the person will turn out, or that they will stop loving you, or that they will not find their way into heaven or that their attitude toward you will embarrass you in the eyes of others. And those fears in turn triggered the anger.
A little or a lot makes no difference
Some of us go through life showing very little anger.  For whatever reason, temperament maybe, it just takes a lot to make us mad.  And when the door to our anger is opened, it is often sudden, loud, maybe out of control.  But it is short lived.  Then we are under control again.  Our burst of anger itself scares us.  It is inconsistent with our view of ourselves and we hurry to bury it again.

Others of us wear our anger on our sleeves.  Anything, it seems can touch it off and no one is safe from its consequences.  But whichever category describes our anger, or whether we are somewhere in between, it is still not a part of who God calls us to be.

Now that is a powerful statement: “God does not call us to be angry.”  But I believe it to be true.  If we can begin to understand how God calls us to deal with fear and anger, we will begin to take our places as effective citizens in his kingdom.  We need to eliminate these barriers to our service to him.

“Be angry and sin not.”
Okay so Ephesians 4:26 says to be angry.  How can we argue with that?  Well, the context is a call to righteousness.  In the larger passage we are called to quit lying and stealing.  Paul does give us enough leeway to get legitimately angry if we must, but then he says in the same verse not to go to bed angry.  Then in verses 31 and 32 he says we should put away from us all bitterness, wrath, and anger, and we should instead be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.  So this passage is clearly not a call to anger.

Was Jesus’ clearing of the moneychangers from the temple and act of anger?
Another Biblical passage sometimes used to justify anger is Jesus’ clearing of the temple.[2]   But if you read the passages carefully, clearing the temple follows immediately after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The people were crying out “Hosanna!  Hosanna!”  And when he got into town he went directly to the temple.  Nowhere in the three accounts does it say he saw the money changers and got angry. 

In the Mark account it says he went in one day and looked around and saw everything that was there.  He then left the temple, went to Bethany to spend the night, and came back and cleaned it out the next day.

The John account says he made a whip of cords before he cleaned it out.  Some commentators believe there were two events when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple.  That discussion is not relevant to our purposes here.  Whether it was once or twice, it seems very deliberate – going in and seeing it one day and coming back to clean it out the next – taking time to make a whip.  Neither of these events reads like he saw something that made him lose his temper.  They seem very deliberate.

Yes cleaning the money changers out of the temple was an authoritative act on behalf of his father, who owned the place, but it does not really read like an act of anger.

Hebrews 3:17 says God was angry with his people for 40 years, but we are called on to turn loose of our anger by nightfall.  That is okay with me.  God has a right to be angry with whomever he chooses.  He was angry at sin.[3]  If we are angry at a brother (the implication is that we harbor ongoing anger) we are in danger of the judgment.[4]  I get the impression that anger is primarily God’s job and we are to be peacemakers.

Jesus angry at the Pharisees
But Jesus is our example and we do know that he was angry at least once – at the Pharisees.[5]  He was in the synagogue on the Sabbath and a man was there with a withered hand.  Jesus, as he frequently did when he met someone who had some infirmity, wanted to heal the man.  But the Pharisees were watching to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.  If he did, they would accuse him of violating one of their rules.  Yes the Sabbath was God’s rule, but they had interpreted it very narrowly, and then forced that interpretation on the people.  They interpreted this “religious rule” in such a way as to prevent people (Jesus in this case) from doing what was really God’s overall, summary rule – helping someone who needed help.

Jesus did not secretly heal the man’s hand; he called him to the front of the room.   Once Jesus and the man were standing together, in front of all the people, Jesus asked the crowd whether it was “lawful” under their law to do good or evil on the Sabbath.  No one gave an answer.  At that point John records that Jesus was both angry at them and grieved because of their hard hearts.  Jesus loved even these hypocritical religious leaders who set out to trap him and eventually to kill him.  He was grieved because they would not understand what he was teaching.  And he was angry.  What did he do with his anger?  He did what he would have done anyway.  He healed the man – so everyone could see.  He asked whether it was lawful to do good or evil, then he did good.  That looks like an example of how we can “be angry and sin not.”[6]  We should continue to love the person we are angry with (he was grieved) and we should turn our anger into energy to do the right thing.

Anger gives us energy
Anger triggers the “fight or flight” response in us.  It releases chemicals to prepare our bodies for action.  Our job at that point is to direct that readiness toward something good – toward helping someone as Jesus did.  If we are angry because someone cut us off in traffic, we can redirect that energy not only toward letting him or her into our lane, but also letting in the next two or three people.

God acknowledged that the emotional makeup he created for us includes the anger response just as it does the sexual response and fear.  But he asks us to be in control of it and not vice versa.  We are to be known as people of peace.

If we follow Jesus' example, our anger will be directed at injustice, and as Isaiah wrote, we can aim that energy at correcting unfairness:

“Is this not the fast which I choose, 
To loosen the bonds of wickedness, 
To undo the bands of the yoke, 
And to let the oppressed go free 
And break every yoke?" 
“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry 
And bring the homeless poor into the house; 
When you see the naked, to cover him; 
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?"[7]

[1] Proverbs 30:33
[2] Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-17
[3] Hebrews 3:17
[4] Matthew 5:22
[5] Mark 3:1-6
[6] Ephesians 4:26
[7] Isaiah 58:6-7