What we can learn from Jonah about anger

Jonah had an anger problem.  A really big one. Sure he could push it down for a chapter or two (his book only has four chapters), but before long it would come roaring back again. The final chapter closes with Jonah sitting on the side of a mountain, being good and angry at God’s gracious ways.

It actually appears that a bad case of self-pity brought it on. You see, Jonah wanted the Ninevites destroyed, but God granted them a stay of execution. Something that’s allowed if you’re the judge and your heart is gracious (Ps 100:5). But Jonah wanted their punishment bad.  Wanted is the key word here.  When we struggle with self – pity it is always our unmet desires that push the door open; before long we can’t get the focus off of ourselves, no matter how hard we try. 

Self pity says, “I believe that something I wanted and deserved was unfairly kept from me” (Jonah 4:1).

This is where Jonah finds himself. He believes he deserves to see the Ninevite’s destruction. With the destruction of nearly 50 Jewish cities on the Ninevite’s resume, Jonah figures they had it coming. Notice Jonah’s words when God backs off on the initial plans for destruction.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? . . . for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:1-2).

Jonah believed that something he wanted and deserved was unfairly kept from him. Think about the word deserved. Did Jonah really deserve to see their destruction? Was he really given the role of both judge and jury?  Had God called him to  prophesy the message and mete out the justice too? The after-effects of a bout with self-pity are anger and the controlling of others.

Because self-pity has its underpinnings in pride its helpful to contrast it with humility. The change of words in the definitions is subtle but essential.

Humility says, “I believe that something I didn’t want, but deserved was graciously kept from me” (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians. He writes,

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

Because humility believes it doesn’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness, its after-effects are gratitude and the serving of others.

I don’t want the last chapters of my life to read like Jonah’s–stuck on a mountain and seething in anger. I want them to read like Paul’s–free, though in prison, and thankful for God’s grace. I’m betting you do too.


Avoiding the Dead End Road: Overcoming self-pity

Self pity is best defined as the preoccupation with oneself because your hopes, desires, or expectations have not been realized. It is an unproductive attitude, habit-forming and destructive to our relationships. Still we choose this pattern of thinking as if it were our only option.

God revealed his thoughts on self-pity within the opening pages of Scripture. The first two children born to Adam and Eve were sons, Cain and Abel. We don’t know much about the brother’s relationship with their parents, but we can make some assumptions based upon how Eve named her boys.

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel (Gen. 4:1-2)

Some Bible scholars have inferred from Eve’s words that she believed she had given birth to the Messiah.  Perhaps she thought that Cain was the one who would set right her wrongs, and strike Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). Abel’s name is strikingly close to the word that means air, breath, meaningless, nothing.

Imagine those introductions at the family reunion. “This is my son who is a gift from God, and this is my son who is nothing.” You would think that the brother who would struggle with feeling sorry for himself would be Abel, yet the opposite is true.

This is a biblical insight that offers hope to those whose home environment has been less than perfect. You are not a product of your environment. God grants you the freedom to consider your past, interpret the details, and then make choices about how you will live differently.

Abel did this. He developed humility in spite of his mother’s bias for his older brother.  He trusted and obeyed the Lord, and offered the best that he had. While Cain grew up believing he was a gift from God, he never considered how to give a “gift” to God. Notice the text,

In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen. 4:3-7).

God addresses Cain’s spirit of self-pity with a question, a solution, and a warning.

The question: “Why are you angry?” reveals that while self-pity feels like our only choice, it is not. Those with a teachable, humble spirit wouldn’t have to be asked this question – they would have already asked it of themselves. When we feel rejection, we ought to ask: Why was I rejected? Is there something I can do differently? Is there something I can change for the next time? Cain doesn’t ask any of these questions. He just heads down the dead-end road as if he doesn’t have a choice.

The solution: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” was an expression of grace from the God of second chances. Yet, it meant more work for Cain. Abel was one and done. Cain would have to humble himself go back and try again. It was easier to stay on the dead-end road, and blame God for the fact that he had to walk it alone.

The warning: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” God reminds Cain that he doesn’t know where this dead-end road goes. He should stop, turn around, and get restored to his God and his brother. But Cain’s countenance doesn’t change. Self-pity is his path of choice and he isn’t going back.

The longer he walked in self-pity the angrier he got. Under the deception of his angry emotions he convinced himself the best option for relief from his self-imposed pain was to murder his brother. He committed the first premeditated killing in the history of the world, and when confronted gives us the infamous line, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

This is why we say: Self-pity is the preoccupation with oneself because your hopes, desires, or expectations have not been realized. It is an unproductive attitude, habit-forming and destructive to our relationships. Still we choose this pattern of thinking as if it were our only option.

God offers us a way off this dead-end road: If you do well, will you not be accepted?

The truth about how anger works…

I struggle with anger. Perhaps you do too. When I succumb to my anger it feels like I don’t have control over my emotions, thoughts, and choices. It seems like decisions are being made for me. It feels like I’m in a box. But is that reality? The following video illustration helps to clarify. If you are receiving this via email or Facebook you may need to go to the home page www.philmoser.com  to view it. Special thanks to Pastor Jack and his family for participating. Running time about seven minutes.

The angry man believes certain things about his emotions, thoughts and choices. He believes them so strongly, because he feels them so deeply. But God’s word offers rock-solid truth, and that unchanging truth brings hope. The best way to correct the faulty belief system of the angry man (and hence gain victory over our angry responses) is to put it up against God’s Word. The following slide shows us how…