Christian Anger Management
We know that in America everything is bigger than it is here, politics, money, business, entertainment, sport, mega churches and not forgetting large scale social problems, addictions, inequalities, weird lifestyles, prisons, ill health and mental problems. One wit described California thus: “The continental United Sates slopes gently from east to west, with the result that everything with a screw loose rolls into California”. And here for your delectation is the latest entrepreneurial success story from across the pond.
“When I was a teenager” Donna Alexander told reporters in Dallas Texas, “I fantasised about setting up an Anger Room, a space where stressed-out people could relieve their tensions by smashing mannequins, televisions, furniture and other objects. In the fall of 2008 as an experiment, I began inviting co-workers to my garage to pulverise items I’d collected from neighbourhood kerbs. I charged them $5 and soon I was getting strangers at my door, asking if my house was the place to break stuff. When that happened I knew I had a business. In 2011, I officially opened The Anger Room in a 1000 square foot space in downtown Dallas. We give customers a baseball bat and charge $25 for five minutes of crushing printers, alarms clocks, glass cups, vases and the like. Prices rise to $500 for custom room setups. The most expensive so far has been a fake retail store with racks of pottery and clothing. Its been so successful that other Anger Rooms have opened in Houston, Toronto, Niagra Falls and Australia. The Presidential election increased business with mannequins of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton taking beatings before the election. Customers demolished two Clinton mannequins requiring replacements. But Trump has attracted even more ire. We’ve gone through at least three of the male mannequins that we have to dress up as Donald Trump. People keep wanting to smash him up. It’s therapeutic”. So there you have it – instead of having a Silent Auction or a Christmas Fayre, People could organise an Anger Event, gather up all sorts of stuff and people to smash it to bits.
Suppressing anger is a necessity in life but it may also be psychologically, emotionally unhealthy. Church life and Kirk Sessions meetings are known for having rows and fall outs. People actually wind themselves up for days before and explode in meetings often causing real and lasting damage to relationships. There’s a lot of anger in the world today much of it contrived by Islam’s doctrines of wrath and revenge. There’s a lot of anger in personal relationships when wives and husbands fall out leading to divorces. There’s a lot of anger in the work place where tensions are often at stretching point and break causing trouble for everyone involved. We are born angry are we not? Infants’ existential screaming and toddlers tantrums are part of our human nature. Life’s realities temper these over the years of our upbringing but many people are described as having ‘short fuses’ and bad tempers throughout their lives.
When we consider the Bible, it presents mixed messages from Genesis to Revelation. The preponderance of Biblical references to God are positive not negative. Even in the story of The Flood Genesis 6:6 reads “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on earth, and his heart was filled with pain”. It does not say that God was angry and filled with wrath and vengeance. Psalm 7 gives a different picture of God. From verse 11 it says “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day. If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow. He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows. Whoever is pregnant with evil conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment. Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made. The trouble they cause recoils on them; their violence comes down on their own heads. I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High”. The writer is saying that evil people bring themselves to destruction and he attributes that to the will of God. The image of great prophets of the Old Testament is largely that they are angry and against humanity on behalf of God. But in fact the great prophets are reconcilers between God and humanity. They diagnose society’s problems and they offer encouragement and hope amidst difficulty and at some times suffering and destruction. Jeremiah 4 reads “If you, Israel, will return, then return to me,” declares the Lord.“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, then the nations will invoke blessings by him and in him they will boast.”'
The prophet Nahum would have been surprised to think that his words could be discussed in a far northern corner of the western hemisphere in the 21st Century. His name means "comforter," and he was from the town of Alqosh, which scholars have attempted to identify with several cities, including the modern Alqosh of Assyria in northern Iraq and Capharnaum of northern Galilee. He was a very nationalistic Hebrew, however, and lived amongst the Elkoshites in peace. Nahum, called "the Elkoshite", is the seventh in order of the minor prophets. Elkoshite is just his birth place of origin. It could have been Nahum the Glaswegian or Nahum the Downdie or Nahum the Doonhamer. Nahum's writings can be taken as prophecy or as history. One account suggests that his writings are a prophecy written in about 615 BC, just before the downfall of Assyria, while another account suggests that he wrote this passage as liturgy just after its downfall in 612 BC. Here the language is indeed strong. “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet”. This is not directed against God’s own people but against the citizens of Nineveh and against the historic barbarities of the Assyrians, barbarities which have continued into our time and we have seen them with our own eyes on our televisions reporting from Aleppo.
You all know that Jesus had his moments of anger notably his cleansing of the Temple of corrupt money-lenders who exploited the poor. He also had some sharp words to say to his disciples. “Get behind me Satan” he said to Peter. “O unbelieving generation” he said to them “how long will I have to put up with you”. That was when they could not heal an epileptic boy. Jesus was not really like the flower power people of 1960’s California and Woodstock Festivals. But he most certainly rejected the Old Testament basis for restitution “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. As we heard read to us earlier, Jesus taught a new and demanding higher standard of conduct in relationships. “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell."Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Anger is not justified in Jesus’ teaching and he himself was forgiving, compassionate and irenic. In this he differs from Moses on one hand and from Mohammad on the other.
St Paul did preach and teach God’s anger in his writings on occasions. Romans 1 was one of them. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”. This is an interesting passage because it suggests that humanity has a given knowledge of God which some deliberately tarnish, suppress and turn away from substituting different ideas and conduct. Like Psalm 7 Paul interprets this process of self-destruction as expressing God’s wrath.
When were you last angry? I have to confess that I shout at my computer from time to time. I don’t really get angry with it because I am immediately reminded of how foolish it is to be angry with a machine. When driving my car and another driver makes a mistake I have to remind myself that that person may be a Christian. “Act justly, love mercy and drive humbly with your God”. Do you remember the epic moment from Fawlty Towers when Basil Fawlty uprooted a young tree from a garden and began hitting his Morris 1100 car with it because it had just broken down? It was a wonderful illustration of the folly and absurdity of anger. In contrast, Christian anger management is well represented by the example of Martin Luther King. He led black and whites infuriated by racist laws and customs to transform the United States through non-violent means. The ability to transform injustice fuelled anger into peaceful, constructive action is the essence of emotional intelligence.
But we meet people who are angry all the time. About everything. They are never at peace. Managers of football teams are often very angry at half-time in football matches. We all know about Alex Ferguson’s ‘hairdryer' treatment. We see and hear political anger and hatred in speeches usually from the political left and constantly from the First Minister of Scotland. Disregard and insouciance may characterise the political right and that makes their opponents even more angry.
Christians have to minimise our anger and try to forgive the person in the moment and forge a way of life in which anger is redundant. The trouble is that others may just take us for granted or ignore us or walk all over us. In mild mannered people the occasional outburst can be quite effective. Generally speaking however we Christians of all people on earth should be able to manage our anger. As Paul advises in Ephesians 4:31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. This is good advice for church people and it is good advice for all of us every day of our lives. If you have trouble controlling your anger then spend some more time in the prayerful company of Jesus and he will transform you into a better person.