The Ways of Anger
Do not associate with a man given to anger;
Or go with a hot-tempered man,
Or you will learn his ways
And find a snare for yourself.
~ Prov. 22:24-25
I was just visiting with a young girl whose parents told me is experiencing outbursts of anger. I knew her when she was younger, and I know she is a sweet and gentle person. The anger problem was something new. After getting caught up with her, I found out that she was spending a lot of time with someone who was frequently angry, and on occasion extremely angry. Some of that anger—at times, a lot of it—was directed toward her.
I've gone through times when I have been in precisely the same spot, with the same symptoms. I not only watched someone become angry, I received it from them. After a time, I started becoming angry myself. I'd never really struggled with that kind of anger, but I found myself being drawn into the same behavior. When those behaviors are directed at us and modeled in front of us, we not only have a reason to be angry but a pattern on how to do it.
The same is true of a lot of negative behavior. We are influenced by the people we spend time with. But anger is different than, for example, using profanity. Anger is part of a natural human process that is healthy. There are things that should make us angry, and feelings of anger are the thing that may cause us to stand up to something evil and potentially harmful to ourselves or those we care about. The problem is when a feeling of irritation turns into rage, or feelings of anger result in a sinful reaction. Unchecked, anger can do harm to others, verbally or physically. Unless you're acting to protect yourself or someone else, God doesn't want us to respond this way (see Matt. 5:39).
Paul affirms the idea that there is an anger that is not sin in Eph. 4:26. It isn't explained, but the idea seems clear. Having a feeling of anger bubble up in response to some injustice or offense is not sin. We all get irritated, have bad days, and take things harder than we should. We receive anger from others for this reason, and sometimes we're guilty of dishing it out. What God wants is for us to stop it in its tracks. We should not continue the escalation by offering it back to the person it came from. When he says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” he is not talking about letting it rage all day with your spouse but apologizing before your head hits the pillow. What he means is that anger should not be allowed to extend through time and grow larger; it needs to be halted.
One of the ways you stop the escalation is by staying away from the person that is triggering you, just as it says in Proverbs 22:24-25. It's possible you trigger each other, but often the case that one person has the hot temper and the other person is at the net, ready to volley. When you disassociate yourself from that person, one of you will experience a dramatic reduction in anger and the other not so much. If you still find yourself angry, you need to seek the root, but it will inevitably be some person who was angry at you in the past that you could not get away from.
If you cannot disassociate yourself with the angry person, as is often the case with a child or memories from your past, you need to find another way out of the feelings when you are hurt. You need to intentionally choose love and kindness when the other person unloads on you. Otherwise, you will become increasingly ensnared in the same unhealthy habits. This is what Satan wants—to neutralize you in your Christian life and bring you down.
I told that young girl that it is very easy to become angry when you are around someone who is angry a lot. I then told her, “That isn't you. You are a sweet girl who sometimes is hurt and frustrated. You can become an angry person if you give in to those feelings. You don't want to be that person.” She agreed.
Give me the wisdom to manage my anger, Lord. Bring me into relationships with people who model holiness and peace. Protect me from any influence that draws me away from becoming the person you desire me to be. Amen.
~ Michael Cranford has a heart for equipping others to follow Christ in today's world. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of California at Irvine, a Master of Divinity from Talbot School of Theology, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion and Social Ethics from the University of Southern California. Visit his website at OneSteadfast.com and follow him on Twitter at @OneSteadfast and Facebook.