Anger Management and Easter Sunday?

As I write this article, the Easter holiday is fast approaching.  In fact, it will be here in a matter of days.  I wonder what God wants us to think about as this most important  Christian celebration approaches.  It is an interesting time to be alive I think.  A presidential election looms in the near future, and the national debates have been quite interesting to watch.  Some of them are very heated, and from time to time - the candidates are simply rude.  Name calling is often the order of the day.  It made me think about how our society handles anger and frustration in general, what has become acceptable on a public level, and what God might have to say about these matters as the countdown to Good Friday begins.  It really comes down to how we treat each other.
For many years someone in my family was a guidance counselor for an elementary school (two of them actually). She ran an anger management group. Guess what the average age of the attendees was? Between 5-6 years old.  Kindergarten! Does the world need to hear what the Bible might say about anger management? I would say so.  It is clear that this problem can start early.  Equally clear is what can happen to these kids if they grow up under this type of duress without ever having adequately addressed the problem of anger.

When I first began thinking about this, I searched the Bible for Scripture references about anger, and I noticed an over-abundance. As I list out some of the verses below, try to read them with an eye toward the action statements contained within the Scriptures themselves. There is something that God requires us to do when it comes to the subject of anger I think.  There is an action step we must take.

For example, Psalm 37:8 says, "Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil."  Proverbs 20:22 says, "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you."  Romans 12:21 likewise tells us, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
And the following two pieces of Scripture seem to stress personal action as well.  Collossians 3:8 says, "But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips."  And 1 Peter 3:9 tells us, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."

Did you notice something? All of these Scripture passages (and many more that I haven't listed) require us to make a choice. Words and phrases like, "refrain, do not, you must..." tell us that God wants us to manage how we handle anger. I think God is telling us that although you can have a gut reaction when you are offended or slighted, the amount of time we allow this frustration to boil is up to us. How we deal with anger is an act of the will, not simply some automatic response or animal instinct that we cannot control. We are active participants in how well we propagate peace.  But don't try telling that to our current roster of presidential candidates during a debate!

There is no shortage of evidence linking physical violence to anger and frustration.  They often walk hand in hand.  But I think difficulty can especially set in when we excuse violence as simply the uncontrollable result of something that someone said or did to me in the heat of the moment.  "I had to punch him in the mouth, did you hear what he said to me?"  Yes I did hear what he said.  And no, you didn't have to punch him in the mouth.

I teach martial arts to a group of wonderful and devoted students twice a week.  We practice kicking, punching, and board breaking ... and it has nothing whatsoever to do with violence.  Instead there is courtesy resulting from discipline, and self-restraint by way of mutual respect for one's opponent.  Anger must not factor in - only personal growth and spiritual development.  This is not philosophical nonsense.  Traditional martial arts have understood these truths for years. It is a lesson we can take into all other areas of our life as well. 

Obviously this is easier said than done at times, and I cannot say with any amount of truth that I never get mad.  But hopefully, if we are good students of Scripture and followers of Jesus, we can learn to deal with anger differently than the rest of the world.  Or at least react differently to each other when it happens.  Because believe me, the rest of the world is watching.

I personally hope those kindergarten kids come to grips with this truth as well, as it is the same truth that you and I struggle with.  It will take spiritual maturity to grapple with this idea; that anger is controllable. Perhaps many of us didn't have parents that modeled this for us when we were younger, or maybe we simply lead frustrating lives without any choice in the matter and no perceivable way out. But when I think of situations like this or when I lose my own temper, I must remember to ask, "where would I be without the Bible's teaching on peace?" And just as important: where are you with regard to anger in your own life?  How would you do if you were up on stage at one of the presidential debates, with someone bringing up your every mistake publicly?  How would you react?

I will resolve to view the things that make me angry in light of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Easter is a celebration of the essence of Christain living.  The joy of the resurrection coupled with the hope of all things made new in God's image.  In this realization there also exists, I think, an attitude of forgiveness as opposed to anger.  I appreciate it when I see this attitude in others, and I'm ashamed when I don't see it in myself.  I may as well get used to the idea that peace is better.  After all, there is no going back to Kindergarten once we are adults.  We shouldn't have to.


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