I don’t know what it might say about me that in the span of about five weeks, I’ve written twice about the topic of anger. The earlier post was mostly someone else’s words but still . . .
Anger is a difficult subject in religious circles. Christians are regularly trained in ways both subtle and overt to believe that there is no place for anger in the life of faith. Anger is a character flaw, a sin, an emotional problem to be conquered with the aid of talk-show therapy, anger management classes, or the power of positive thinking.
Certainly it’s true that irrational anger, chronic rage, uncontained fury that turns violent — all these demand immediate attention and often swift intervention.
But we worship a God described in Scripture as a God of wrath. How do we square that with another of the Bible’s foundational claims, namely, that God is love?
In recalling the atrocities committed in his homeland of Yugoslavia, Miroslav Volf says this: “Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful inspite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.”
How could there not be a place for anger in the Christian life? We know from experience that we get most angry with the people we love most. And we also know from experience that people in churches can sometimes display the worst forms of pettiness and hypocrisy, deceit and betrayal — traits that sow seeds of bitterness and resentment that lead to the anger we so desperately try to conceal, even, at times, from ourselves.
Can we ever really learn to speak truthfully with one another, to be genuinely bound to each other as members of Christ’s body, if we are unable to acknowledge how truly angry some of us are?
It’s pointless to tell ourselves or each another to “just let go of the anger,” as if the power to do so resided in ourselves. Our only hope of undoing the self-consuming, community-crippling anger that often seethes just beneath the surface of our personal and corporate lives is to recognize that it is Christ in us who absorbs our anger and who makes possible any gestures toward forgiveness and reconcilation we are able to offer.
And it is Christ in us who calls us to the kind of righteous anger that mirrors God’s compassion for the abused and tormented. Righteous anger, God’s anger, is an impetus to love and a call to set things right.
Of all the Seven Deadly Sins anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back — in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC