Anger is like a volcano. It erupts unpredictably and violently, at times for no explainable reason, causing indiscriminate harm to innocent people who are caught in its path. As sudden as an angry outburst may seem, often it has boiled beneath the surface for years, dormant until a surface rupture allowed for its release. I have been on the giving and receiving end of too many anger eruptions in my life and for all of my youth and much of my adult life I have battled the volcano within.
The grace of God in the transforming power of His Spirit, working through the love and patience of my wife and children, ultimately helped break the cycle of anger that characterized my life.
Working to eliminate anger from has not protected me from the wrath of others. I was recently the victim of an unexpected anger attack that left reflecting anew on how damaging anger is to relationships.
As is so often the case nowadays, it all began with a misinterpreted Facebook post. One friend shared a link by a sociology professor at the University of Texas. I liked the article he sent and shared it myself, as I found the article to be a thoughtful and neutral discussion of the evolution of the American Church’s attitude toward sexuality and moral issues. Another friend took offense at me sharing anything that referenced same sex issues and send me an angry and vindictive Facebook message. Caught off guard I called him, hoping to avoid the miscommunication and inflammation of a written response. The conversation did not go well. According to this friend I had done something terrible and hurtful. In his mind his anger was appropriate and the attack deserved. Deeply hurt and puzzled I asserted my innocence and shared that I thought the post was misunderstood. I was unable to convince my friend.
Additional angry messages were sent. I was attacked for having a shallow, judgmental and vindictive faith and was told that my stated desire to follow Scripture was foolish. He wrote that the Bible is known to be inaccurate and unreliable and I was wrong to rely on its assertions. His words went beyond disagreement and into the realm of demeaning insult. I was amazed that someone who I considered a friend could pen such vicious and intentionally hurtful words. I wondered how it was that someone could respond so hatefully to a misunderstood Facebook post. The eruption was violent and powerful.
After multiple emails the truth was revealed. What appeared to be a sudden outburst had actually been boiling beneath the surface for years. The anger was due more to something that had happened years ago than it was to the words recently written. The unresolved hurt led him to hurt back. The viciousness of the attack leads me to wonder if our relationship will ever be the same.
In this story there are several lessons about anger that we all should keep in mind (lessons that can be found in Scripture!)
- Anger never works in relationships. Ever. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20
- No matter how smart we think we are, it is foolish to blow up at someone else. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Proverbs 29:11
- Our anger leads to more mistakes than we can imagine. “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” Proverbs 29:22
- When we hold grudges we hurt ourselves and others. People will hurt us, we need to forgive. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col 3:13-14
The last lesson applies to those of us who have been hurt by the anger of others. We need to forgive. While forgiveness does not demand that we repeatedly place ourselves in the path of someone’s anger, it does require that we let go of our own anger and any desire to get even. With my friend I did what I could to address any wrong that I had done in the past. I resisted the urge to strike back and instead chose to pray that he will someday be freed from the rage and anger that have driven so many from his life. I also pray that anger will disappear from my life and allow me to be the husband, father, friend and doctor that I hope to be.