When it comes to emotional sins (like anger) we tend to address them on the emotional level. Yet, the more I have studied anger (both for my sake and to help others) I have realized that our struggle with anger is really one of belief before it is one of emotion. Dealing with it only at the emotional level is a bit like brushing your teeth when you actually need a root canal.
We must learn to deal with anger as a belief system if we hope to make progress. Here’s the first of three beliefs that effect the angry person.
I grew up with a three legged stool in my parent’s living room. It was intended as a footrest for my dad’s recliner, but I remember being fascinated by it. You would think that a four legged stool would be more stable, but in truth the 3 legged stool was harder to tip over . . . until you took one of the legs away. The angry man’s belief system is built upon three faulty propositions. When I review these errors (and I have to do that often), I find that I am better prepared to deal with the circumstances that reveal my anger. Likewise, I find that my propensity to be gentle and understanding increases.
Faulty Belief # 1: You believe what feels right must be right.
Anger feels like a feeling. I know that sounds redundant, because it’s meant to be. It’s intended to describe why victory over this sinful desire is so elusive. With anger the feeling is so strong that we believe it must be right. In truth, it may have initially been generated from something that is right—like a violated sense of justice. For instance, its wrong when a parent is disrespected or a child is provoked (Eph 6: 1-2). Its wrong when hurtful partiality has been practiced (James 2:1-6). It’s wrong when these things are not set right (Isaiah 1:17). But anger subtly shifts the authority from what God says about it to how we feel about it. Once that shift has taken place our understanding of authority moves from an objective base (God’s Word) to a subjective base (our feelings). Hence, it can no longer be trusted. The challenge? It feels like it can be and should be trusted. We’re angry about it—and that makes it right.
The first leg of the faulty 3-legged stool to go is this one: You believe what feels right must be right. The Bible declares that our feelings cannot be trusted.
Consider these biblical warnings:
- Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools (Eyck. 7:9).
- Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil (Psa. 37:8)
- A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated (Prov. 14:17)
- Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly (Prov. 14:29).
The Bible is really clear on this. The angry person lacks wisdom. Yet wisdom is an essential quality to determine if something is right or wrong. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7).
When I succumb to anger I incorrectly assume that because it feels right it must be right, and I respond with my temper. All the while, I am revealing my foolishness. I am determining the rightness of my choices; based upon what I feel not what is true.
The truth is this: In Christ you can control the passion of your angry emotion. That is why you are commanded to put off anger and put on kindness.
…you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:21-24).
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:31-32).