To a fault, I like to know the origin of something. I often lose myself in researching causes and beginnings, so much so that I can never get around to practical application. And so it – almost – was as I began my study of anger. Where did it come from, after all?
First, you may be asking, why are you studying anger? A good question. An easy answer: because I am angry. It has gotten better in recent years, but anger has been my companion for truly as long as I can remember. Was I born this way? Or did something happen to bring it into my life? See? We’re back to origins.
You might realize that I’m not talking about ordinary-everyday-run-of-the-mill annoyance, frustration, or irritation. While these are relevant to a discussion on anger, what I’m talking about is something that pervades your life; it’s always lying there, right underneath the surface, ready to spring up in a flash. No, you may not walk around with a frown and gruff word for everyone, all day. Nevertheless, the anger is there, even behind your smiling face and your soft voice. A fire, smoldering.
Is there a good purpose for anger?
When I consider the origins of my own struggle with anger, I think: does anger serve a purpose? Is it always sinful to be angry? The Bible would give us a resounding “no” to the latter question. There are many references in the Bible to anger, and even to God, Himself, being angry; these are obviously outside of sin (see Ephesians 4:26, Numbers 32:13, etc.).
One thing I see that anger does for us is spur us into action. It really can be like a jolt of electricity! The physical manifestations of anger are an increased heart rate, more rapid breathing, and a tenseness in the body. It would seem that this automatic physical response prepares us for action of some sort. In cases where anger is serving a noble purpose, perhaps these actions would be rising to someone’s defense, or confronting wrong-doing.
Another helpful thing that anger can do for us is to protect and help us set boundaries for those who might take advantage of us or those we love. To me, this is kind of like the growl of a dog: it’s a helpful warning before action is taken. You could tell someone in a kind way to back off, over and over, but until there’s a more threatening emotion to underscore your words, you might not be taken seriously.
Lastly, anger is informative. If something triggers us, it’s helpful to probe deeper and think: now just why am I having this emotional response? Anger – which often seems to just come upon us, rather than being invited – can tell us some things that we probably need to hear. Often it tells us there is a place that we need to grow in, but sometimes, it tells us that there is a wound that still isn’t healed or an unresolved situation in our lives. Maybe the information given us is much more practical, like we need more sleep, more food, or less stress. Our anger response can give us helpful clues into what is going on in our inner lives.
It is comforting to realize that anger is not always a bad thing, and that it can be a force for good. Over the next several weeks, we will dig deeper into this topic, confronting it in our own lives, and learning how to overcome its control by the power of the Holy Spirit!