I'm Still Angry!

Is It right for you to be angry?

Last week I said that anger will never completely disappear from our lives this side of heaven, nor should it. There is a time and a place for anger and it will either be our servant or our master. In order for our anger to be our servant, we need to get beyond anger management to anger control. Anger is an emotion, and we do not have direct volitional control over our emotions. We can’t will ourselves to like people we have an emotional hatred for. We can choose to do the loving thing for them even though we don’t like them; but we can’t simply tell ourselves to stop being angry.

Jonah became angry. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, but was forced into preaching there. It wasn’t fair, at least in Jonah’s mind, when God showed mercy and didn’t bring the destruction that God had told him to “forecast.”  I am referring to the Bible story of Jonah in the fourth chapter of Jonah.

What resource did Jonah have to control his anger? First, he was allowed to talk, even to vent and express his anger at God. Yes, that’s right. It is, apparently, okay to get mad at God. God didn’t get mad at Jonah but He dealt with Jonah’s anger. God didn’t cater to Jonah or try to appease his anger, He simply asked, “It is right for you to be angry?” When he expressed anger, God listened and simply asked, “Is it right for you to be angry?” The word “angry” in the Hebrew language means “hot, grieved, or vexed.” 

Remember the anger scale I shared with you last week going from Calm to Rage? It is from Dr. Jeremy Crosby’s book on PTSD called “A Mind Frozen in Time.”  Here it is again;

Calm – Mild Irritation – Frustrated – Agitated – Upset – Angry – Ticked-Off – Furious – Explosive – Rage.

Was Jonah on the Explosive or Rage side of the scale? Jonah was allowed to rest, and even had a plant cover him with a cooling shade. Some time went by and a worm killed the plant and Jonah was right back on the right side of the scale…so mad that he was ready to die. Anger can take us there…so mad that we are ready to die.

What could Jonah have done to get his anger under control? Anger gets us off track and produces hurtful behavior. When anger gets out of control we may act aggressively and try to hurt ourselves or others. We may destroy valuable property, get into legal problems, ruin relationships, regret later what we do in anger, and not really like the hostile aggressive person that we have become. Some positive actions that we can take, as I suggested in last week’s article are STOP, THINK, CHOOSE.

In a stressful situation I will first STOP. When I have stopped I will THINK about options, information that I have, and decide how to respond. I do not have to react. I can CHOOSE to express my anger in constructive ways and decide the best course of action. Generally it is not our anger that gets us into trouble, it is our behavior when the emotion of anger has taken control of our actions.

Healthy anger looks something like this. It is viewed as a normal and natural part of life. Its purpose is to be a warning sign that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Behaviors motivated by anger must be chosen carefully. Healthy anger is not to be on automatic pilot (take control) and not to be used to get our way. It is expressed in a way that is clear yet not destructive to yourself, to others, or to valuable property. Maybe above all anger is temporary; once the issue is resolved, let it go.

The book of Jonah leaves Jonah sitting in the hot sun so angry he is suicidal. Nineveh is spared and Jonah just doesn’t get it. He feels remorse for having to minister to a repentant people and anger at God for being kind and merciful. What a sad ending.

What if God had responded like Jonah responded to God’s change of heart toward Nineveh? i.e. Jonah said he’d be better off dead…God could have killed him! Instead, God asked, “Are you doing good to be angry?”

This is a reflective rhetorical question; you don’t need to answer “out loud.” Your actions speak louder than your words.