The Deadly Sin of Anger
Anger can be a great fuel for achievement. Lance Armstrong talks about how it was anger that created his overwhelming resolve to win bike races (and dope, lie and destroy the reputations of others in the process). Anger can simmer, barely detectable but always ready to boil over. Anger can be comical, as well as threatening. Anger is also very personal and gets expressed in ways that are peculiar to our own personality type. One of my expressions of anger is my PILTP list. People I’d like to punch. There shouldn’t be anyone on that list. It’s not a list that should even exist. But it has a way of finding its way into my mind.
And that’s the thing about anger – it tends to be an expression of our sin. One of the peculiarities of anger, though, is that as well as being a deadly sin it can also be a virtue. Amongst the deadly sins anger is unique in this regard. We see virtuous anger displayed by God. God can be angry righteously (even if Steve Chalke isn’t happy about this); an anger with no impurity to it. There are things that should make us angry too. If we never get angry about the impact of sin on the world there is probably something wrong with our moral compass.
Even while there are things to get righteously angry over, the danger is that generally our anger isn’t like God’s. Our anger tends not to be righteous but sinful. We might feel our anger is righteous, but in reality it is very difficult to be righteously angry! More often than not our anger is due to our selfishness, our pride, and our envy. The people who wind up on my PILTP list are those who have caused me offence in some way, towards whom I feel an urge to get even. That is not a godly urge.
The signs of anger are usually obvious. We all know people who are angry, and we tend to steer clear of them, which only makes them more angry! It is usually easy to spot anger in others, but we can be quite blind to it in ourselves. This is why anger is deadly, because as with the other deadly sins we are prone to deceive ourselves and describe as “righteous” what is evil or as “deserved” what is illicit.
The deadly sin of anger is often a child of the idol of self. This is our desire to be in control and in charge, and anger is what we experience when that desire is thwarted. I know this is how anger gets hold of me. It happens because I am a pastor and a parent, and as a pastor and parent I expect to be in control! A righteous sense of responsibility can all too easily be hijacked by an ungodly assumption of certain rights and privileges.
The warfare attrition of the Christian life makes us vulnerable to anger because we can feel things spinning out of our control. I know my most sickening experiences of anger have been caused by things I feel I should be able to control but which have instead slipped beyond me. Of course, the point is that it is not actually those incidences that are responsible for my anger, but my own sinful response to them. Try telling that to an angry person though.
Angry people may get ahead but they tend to wreck havoc and don’t have many friends; just ask Lance Armstrong. The antidote to anger is a robust and joyful confidence in the sovereignty of God. When we not only recognise that God is in control but are genuinely glad about this the idol of self gets toppled in our lives and self-righteous anger dissipates. Rather than being poisoned by the intoxicating power of anger we need to let the peace of God dwell in our hearts and live by his grace.