A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.
Mad at the World
The comedian Katt Williams talks about people “who are hard all the time, from the time they wake up until they go to bed.” Paraphrasing slightly to tidy up his fondness for volatile euphemisms, he says, “They’re mad before they eat breakfast. [You want to say] ‘What’s wrong with you? It’s 7 o’clock in the morning and you’re bangin’ on bacon?’” The line gets big laughs of recognition at how ridiculous anger can get. Second to hate, anger is the most malignant emotion we know. It enters our hearts on the heels of injury (actual or perceived) and creeps through our system until it seizes our thoughts, feelings, and physiology. Angry responses are inevitable; they’re part of our emotional palette. Though this may surprise some, we get angry because our Creator gets angry. For example, 1 Kings 11.9 tells us, “The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD.” The difference between God and many of us, however, is we nurse anger while He quickly releases it to find a better way. In Exodus 32.14 we read: “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”
Flashes of anger are understandable. Sustained anger has no reason. It searches for new targets to justify its existence. Our neighbor does something that makes us mad. To stay mad, we’ve got to get mad at something else he/she does, and then something else. When that source runs dry, we start noticing other things to be angry about—maybe a spouse or third neighbor who knows why we’re mad but doesn’t take our side. Before long, we’re angry with everyone who doesn’t get mad with us. Eventually, we’re mad at the world--we're bangin' on bacon--which ends with us being angry with ourselves most of all.
Anger Is Costly
Strangely enough, Solomon—whose behavior enraged God—captures the price of sustained anger. “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty.” Anger is costly. It creates enormous debts in relationships, many of which we can never fully satisfy with later regret and apologies. But it also exacts a tremendous toll on us. Constantly angry people wind up horribly lonely. No one wants to be subjected to endless flows of poisonous, erratic behavior. Anger makes people unhealthy, and unhealthy to be around. They’re unreasonable, selfish, and sad. It doesn’t take long to realize nothing will make them happy, because they’re hell-bent on being miserable. And even the most patient people remove themselves to invest their energy and optimism in others who’ll appreciate and benefit from them.
What’s most intriguing about Solomon’s counsel is his decision to pair wisdom about hotheads with sound advice for those around them. “If you rescue him once, you will have to do it again.” Anger’s greatest expense is the trouble it causes. Angry partners set fires of humiliation and despondency in those committed to love them for life. Angry parents etch scars of fear and hostility in their children’s hearts. Angry children crush parental confidence and fulfillment. Although specific outcomes vary, all who suffer uncontrolled wrath and struggle unsuccessfully to rescue the angry person share one common emotion—lost hope. The bitterness of failure never fades entirely, nor trepidation about trusting others. Only God can say how many deserving relationships are undone by the ripple effects of foolishly nursed rage.
Anger issues are basically power struggles. They’re fed by subterranean wells of fear and perceived worthlessness. Think about what makes us angry: suspicions no one notices or cares what happens to us; feeling useless or rejected; disrespect, deceit, and disregard. We give way to anger to reassert our value. Behaviors and situations that don’t challenge our insecurities may annoy us, but they don’t make us mad. Only those tapping into hidden anxieties bring anger to the surface. Outbursts of rage are primitive attempts to regain control—to conquer fear by inflicting it on others, to increase our value by slicing into anyone unfortunately within range. But anger never delivers on its promise. Never in human history has it produced a desirable effect. And frankly, if we actually believe persistent anger can change things for the better, we’re mad fools.
Solomon offers the key to overcoming power struggles brought on by personal insults and injuries. In Proverbs 16.32, he writes, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (NKJV) Control of situations triggering rage comes by taking control of our anger. Meanness is not might, nor intimidation a show of power. Anger exposes weakness and impotence. It validates the very things it means to disprove. Cruel, vengeful people will do and say everything possible to enrage us, playing us like self-destructive puppets for their personal pleasure. We have two options. We can allow them to string us up and, in doing so, ruin our lives and dozens we touch. Or we can defeat their intentions by letting anger pass and, like our Father, find a better way to resolve our issues. Here’s Solomon’s suggestion in Proverbs 15.1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” His wisdom cuts both ways; gentleness halts anger in others and in us.
Anger never delivers on its promise. Never in human history has it produced a desirable effect.
(Tomorrow: Homeward Bound)