December 14, 1993
Tragic stories like the recent killing of family members by a fifteen-year-old boy will haunt us for a long time. That he murdered his family is heart-wrenching enough, but his reasons are almost beyond comprehension.
Most of us become angry at people for rude behavior, for thoughtlessness, for making our lives somewhat uncomfortable. Young people do get upset with parents who make what seems like senseless demands. Parents also get angry with children who frustrate and disobey them, who act without thinking or think up dozens of ways to avoid taking action.
Family conflict is unavoidable and every family clashes from time to time. What must not be avoided is dealing with anger, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. If conflict is not resolved, anger builds like water behind a dam. Eventually, it will flood somewhere.
But what can a person do with anger? Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Does it mean that instead of blowing up, we should pretend we are not angry? That kind of pretense seldom fools anyone.
Does the verse mean we should refuse to acknowledge even to ourselves that we are angry? I have known people whose moral code told them it was wrong to be angry but their pride would not allow them to admit it. Every time something made them angry they convinced themselves they were not really angry and either renamed their feelings into something more acceptable or denied the emotion, and buried it. Most of us know that is not very healthy. It leads to ulcers and dangerous self-deception.
So what does the self-controlled angry person do? Do they blame themselves for having a bad temper, confess anger as sin, and ask God to forgive them? Maybe. Anger is sometimes unwarranted or an over-reaction and is definitely sinful. But is it always wrong?
Better advice says otherwise: “Be angry and sin not; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (see Ephesians 4).
Sometimes it is possible to “be angry” without sinning. If someone does something wrong, harmful, or from unkind motives, the most natural response is anger. In fact, God gets angry at our sin. While we may have more selfish reasons to be mad, anger itself is not the issue: what is important are the various things we do in our anger.
One of them is to get even. When someone hurts me, I want to hurt them back. When someone yells at me, I raise my voice at them. But anger only begets anger and leads to wars.
Sometimes I try to put away my anger denying I have a reason to be angry, or even making excuses for the other person. While I could be simply refusing to acknowledge my hurt feelings or trying to be “big about it,” this is also a way to avoid confronting the situation.
Actually, confrontation is not always a bad thing to do when someone hurts us. While it is important to wait until we cool down, Paul says we should do something before the day ends. For one thing, it will not “seem” as important the next day and we might repress it. This eventually leads to a flood.
For the fifteen-year-old, an angry flood came out in cold, calculating violence. He was perhaps provoked, we may never know, but he did not deal with his anger in a godly way. Instead he let it build until it burst. Sadly, even though he thinks he destroyed those who made him angry, what he really did was destroy himself.