There are zillions of things to be angry about. This is my list: civil war, genocide, corruption, totalitarian regimes, poverty, inequality, free trade, money, domestic violence against men and women, child abuse, broken families, betrayal, lying, depression, mental illness, hopelessness, fake friends, people who don’t recycle, the game of politics, and the poor treatment of asylum seekers. And that’s just right now.
But anger is one of those socially awkward emotions. No one knows quite where to look when a husband and wife start having a heated argument in a nice restaurant. Or when a father explodes at his child in the supermarket. Or road rage – no one likes that guy.
Visible anger is not pretty. For this reason I have spent much of my life suppressing my anger. I hid it away in locked boxes in the depth of my heart, taking great care to never let it out. Let’s face it: this was never going to end well. One of two things usually happens: either it wriggles out and explodes at an extremely inopportune moment, or it self-destructs taking my functionality with it. Neither are great outcomes.
Perhaps I would have done better to express my anger in the moment when I initially felt it. Everything in me riles against this. I don’t want to be *that* person who loses it in public. I like to have my fits of anger in private, thank you very much.
This got me thinking about God and his anger.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15.
Yes, he is slow to anger, but he gets there eventually.
He does not offer empty platitudes or low self-esteem. He does not pretend that everything is fine but then go and whinge about people behind their backs. He is not passive aggressive. And his anger is not to be trifled with.
For they have rejected the law of The Lord of hosts,
and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore the anger of The Lord was kindled against his people,
and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them,
and the mountains quaked;
and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of their streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still. Isaiah 5:24-25.
He is repulsed by the behaviour of his chosen people. He is livid. And rightly so. As the one who gave them life, gave them a land, gave them everything they have, he deserved to be honoured by them. But this was not to be. They forgot him.
So he gets angry. To be honest, some of those Bible passages that detail God’s anger make me slightly embarrassed. I don’t like to think about it. But does his anger mean something? Of course it expresses frustration and disappointment, but these seem just like synonyms. What does God’s anger teach me?
I think it shows me that things matter. In the same way that tears at a farewell show that there are real relationships and connections, so too does anger show that there is something valuable worth getting upset about, frustrated with, and worth fighting for. Perhaps anger tells us that there is some kind of good that has been thwarted. This is hardly universal – there are plenty of things that we get angry about that actually aren’t about some greater good, but are simply about my selfishness (perhaps road rage is a good example of this).
But taking the basic principle, here’s how it might work:
I am angry at genocide because people are not disposable.
I am angry at free trade because it exacerbates inequality.
I am angry at any kind of abuse because God gave human beings dignity.
I am angry at fake friends because I value truth and honesty.
I am angry at depression because it sucks the life out of people.
I am angry at money because it makes people act out of line with their character.
Anger makes it real. It means you care. This cannot be the only reaction, but I wonder whether it is an important one. After all, Paul says,
Be angry and do not sin. Ephesians 4:26.
Do you care enough to let the world or your friends or your family see your anger?