Anger often gets the best of us, making us act rashly, without thinking about what we are doing. It should not be surprising that, as a result of our anger, we often end up hurting ourselves more than anyone else. This is not to say we should never get angry, nor that anger can never be put to good use. There are times when anger is justified and what is done out of such anger, if it is also done with prudence, can help overcome some injustice in the world. Nonetheless, this is not the norm. For the most part, when anger takes control, we ignore prudence so that when we unleash our wrath, we make things worse for all. Thus, we are warned in the Psalms: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Ps. 37:7 RSV).
Though anger usually has us embrace some evil as we act on it, we must remember, if we keep control of ourselves, we can use our anger against evil and work for the greater good. This is why God can metaphorically be said to be angry at sin, or how we can read of Jesus directing his anger at abuses he saw going on at the Temple without going astray. Anger can be good when it is used, not to enforce some private, individual good, but the common good. The reason why anger is dangerous is we lose sight of the good, seeing all things in the lens of such anger, making us angry at all things, even the good which is before us, and in doing so, we risk attacking and fighting against the greater good instead of lifting it up and promoting it as we should. Our anger tends to be fueled by bad desires, making it selfish, so that we do not seek after the righteousness of God, as James understood: “Know this, my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20 RSV). Even if we try to justify our anger due to the sin of those we oppose, we rarely focus on the sin, but on the people involved, so that it is not justice which we seek, but revenge. True justice is restorative, while revenge tends to be nihilistic, and so with our wrath, we seek to wipe out those who anger us instead of figuring out the way to truly bring justice into the situation.
Indeed, one of the reasons why we get angry, and so why we can cause much harm in and through our anger, is that we desire to be in control, and when we are not in control, our anger grows and takes us over. We want people to do as we tell them to do; sometimes, we might have good reasons for what we say, but when we are ignored or worse, people resist us by doing the opposite of what we say, we stop focusing on the good which we wanted, but on the opposition which we experience, an opposition which we take as an offense against us. And so, being slighted, we grow angry. Obviously, we should not do so, and if we were of sound mind, we would realize this, for, “Good sense makes a man slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11 RSV).
Abba Romanus, one of the desert fathers, sought peace, and understood the way to peace was to avoid anger by rejecting any claims of dominance or authority over others. That way, he would not be upset if his words were not heeded:
When Abba Romanus was at the point of death, his disciples gathered round him and said, ‘How ought we to conduct ourselves?’ The old man said to them, ‘I do not think I have every told one of you to do something, without having first made the decision not to get angry, if what I said were not done; and so we have lived in peace all our days.’
What Abba Romanus lived, we should try to live as well. We should strive to be at peace with others. We should avoid propping ourselves up as authorities to be obeyed. We should accept the fact that not everyone will heed our advice and do as we ask. When we truly accept this, we will not get unjustly angry when our desires are not fulfilled. This does not mean nothing should be done when the common good is being undermined, for then, there can also be no peace as the destruction of the common good will create anger and resentment, social structures of sin will develop, and many people will be needlessly hurt. But as the problem is social, the solution must also be social, indeed, communal; what needs to be done should be determined, not by one person, but by society as a whole. The point is that we are to try to find a way to live at peace with others. We must not think so highly of ourselves that we think everyone should naturally do as we say, taking it as an offense against us if they do not. Humility, not pride, is necessary, for only in and through such humility can we speak truly out of love and promote the common good instead of using the good for our own private ends.
All emotions have their place. They were given to us for a reason. Anger is one of them. Paul tells us that what we should be concerned about is not the anger but what it has us do, the sin which can follow from it. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27 RSV). The key is to learn how to use our emotions instead of being controlled by them.
Anger is something we often feel and experience throughout our lives. We like to think we are still in control, but we are not. Anger is one of the emotions we feel when we experience such lack of control. When we feel it, we must ask ourselves, where did it come from? What can and should we do about it? If there is some wrong in the world which gets us angry, what can we do about it? How do we combat that evil without letting it poison us? How do we use anger to pursue justice without creating a new, and possibly worse injustice in return? Surely, we can be angered, and we should not avoid it, but also, we should not be attached to it either, for it is in and through that attachment, we truly go astray as then anger, and not the good, becomes the hermeneutic by which we act.
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 211 [Saying of Abba Romanus].
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