Get hold, and get rid, of your anger.

by K.W. Leslie, 31 March

James 1.19-21.

God is stable. Jm 1.16-18 He’s not prone to wild mood swings, nor does he have some secret evil plan where he tricks us into sin Jm 1.12-15 as an excuse to smite us—which he conceals beneath a veneer of goodness. God’s no hypocrite.

And, as is appropriate for God’s followers, we shouldn’t be that way either. Ordinarily humans are creatures of extremes. Our emotions tend to be wild, crazy, out of control… or totally repressed. If we’re the overemotional sort, we point to the emotionless sort as totally wrong, and vice-versa. The repressed person objects to emotions as wildly inappropriate, and emotional people as possible candidates for heavy medication. The out-of-control person objects to emotionless people as unhealthy and stunted, and at some point they’re gonna snap and need some of that heavy medication themselves.

But the fruit of the Spirit is prahýtis/“gentility,” or gentleness—the ability to keep control over our emotions. A Spirit-following Christian doesn’t fly off the handle at every little thing, in wrath and fury. Nor do we feel nothing… including love, joy, and compassion. The Spirit helps us keep a grip on our feelings.

But of course, Christians pretend our rage is righteous anger, or even that it’s all God’s idea. We even try to make it sound like fruit. James objected to the idea in this passage:

James 1.19-21 KWL
19 Know this, my beloved fellow Christians: Be quick to listen, everybody. Slow to speak, slow to anger.
20 Men’s anger doesn’t empower God’s rightness.
21 So gently get rid of every filthy thing, every evil advantage.
Pick up the message which is implanted with the power to save your souls.

Be proactive about controlling your anger.

Since anger, as Jesus taught us, tends to be the most quickly destructive of all our emotions, it’s especially important to clamp down on it. We gotta control it before it takes us over.

It got Cain to murder his brother, despite God’s warning—

Genesis 4.6-8 KWL
6 The LORD told Cain, “Why are you hot?
Why is your face down?
7 If you’re doing good, won’t you be lifted up? If you’re not doing good, sin sits by the gate:
It may desire you, but you take charge of it.”
8 Yet Cain spoke to his brother Abel,
and while they were in a field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.

In a white-hot fury, it doesn’t even matter if the Almighty himself tries to talk us down: We’re not gonna be rational. We’re gonna strike out… and regret it later. All the more reason we need to learn to control it.

Here, James singled out anger as a particular problem of his readers. As a bishop, he’d seen plenty of examples of anger ruining people’s relationship. So he advised: Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Like our Father, who’s also slow to anger. Ex 34.6

Put the anger away. Put the causes of anger away. Get rid of any impure things or feelings or beliefs, which we might prioritize over God and our relationships with one another, which might outrage us when people rightly condemn them. Focus on what God teaches, not on what we feel. Anger ruins lives. God’s word saves lives.

It’s wisdom we need to start applying to our lives right now—for if it’s not in there when we get angry, anger’s gonna rule the day.

See, that’s the reason for most of our automatic, knee-jerk reactions to the events which blindside us: We didn’t prepare for them. Often we’ll figure, wrongly, we can’t prepare for them: Who knows what may happen tomorrow? In fact, people’ll even misquote James to defend this idea: Why’re you making definite plans for the future when you have no such control over your future? Jm 4.13-16 Hence we often have no plan in place when disaster strikes, when surprises pop up, when people do the unexpected. Even though life is full of such things.

So when they happen, the first thing to kick in would be our fight-or-flight instinct. And for a lot of us, we fight. No surprise, we wind up hurting and wounding people.

We overcome our instincts with self-control. We learn to suppress that first response. Think things through before we act. Develop a better first reaction. Become slow to anger.

Fr’instance: I walk a lot. And as people who know me, see me walking down the street as they drive past, for some crazy reason they honk at me. As if by the time I turn round to see who’s honking, they aren’t past me, and I can’t see their faces anymore. Later they’ll tell me, “I saw you on [such-and-so] Street; I honked!” Yeah you did. Guess what I had to do? Repress that first instinct to give you the finger.

Yeah, I had really bad examples when I was growing up. For the longest time I gleefully followed them. There are a lot of awful drivers out there, and they tend to overuse their horns. But that can’t be the way I address people—whether friends or strangers, whether they’re honking at me in greeting or frustration. I had to condition myself to respond better. I do… but unfortunately that impure first response isn’t entirely gone. Still gotta practice self-control.

That’s a minor quibble in comparison with the experience of James’s readers. They’d been through persecution. Their reactions were either battle-hardened or shell-shocked: Serious fight, or serious flight. Those things are more difficult than usual to change. But they had to, and could, change for the better. We have to be done with that myth that we’re damaged beyond repair. Jesus offers us the Holy Spirit, just as much without limit as he had. Jn 3.34 He’s here to fix us and make us better. Let him!

That’s the message of salvation God gave us—the good news, the message he put in us. Jesus come to save us. The Spirit’s here to make our lives perfect and whole. But if we won’t let him do his thing and resist him, we’ll stay the same angry, out-of-control, joyless, fruitless people as before.

Blaming God for it.

The thing about us Christians is we have the bad habit of Christianizing instead of changing. We stay the same old angry bastards as before, and we justify it by claiming it’s something God put in us. Something God made us. Something God wants us to be.

Lots of angry Christians claim we’re angry because we’re just doing as we see our Father doing. “Sin makes God angry. So it makes me angry. It should make you angry. Why aren’t you angry?” It’s one of the biggest cop-outs we Christians have ever invented: We’ve disguised a work of the flesh as righteousness and obedience.

True, there are a lot of things we can get pissed about. Certainly a lot of things Christianists tell us we oughta be pissed about. Might be political issues, like abortion, gay marriage, healthcare, and abandoning the needy. Might be religious issues, like widespread paganism, scary new religions, heretic forms of Christianity—stuff we’re irrationally irritated at, not because they’ve hurt us, but because they exist.

See, that’s the problem with anger, righteous or not: It’s not rational. It’s mighty selective, and follows us rather than God.

Fr’instance divorce. God hates divorce, right?

Malachi 2.13-16 KWL
13 This second thing you do: Tears cover the LORD’s altar, weeping and groaning
because he doesn’t look at your offering or take gifts from your hand.
14 You say, “Why?” Because the LORD witnessed between you and the woman of your youth.
You deceived her. She’s your partner, your woman by covenant.
15 Didn’t God make them one, giving his Spirit to them?
Why’d he want them one? So they’d produce godly seed.
Watch out in your spirit. Don’t deceive the woman of your youth.
16 For Israel’s LORD God says he hates divorce.
“It covers people with chaos like clothing,” says the LORD of War.
Watch out in your spirit. Don’t deceive yourselves.

Okay. When people get divorced, do Christians get outraged on God’s behalf, and do everything possible to fight and outlaw frivolous, no-fault divorces?


Other than Fundamentalists, Christians seldom get righteously angry about divorce anymore. Because we don’t find it personally distasteful. In fact we kinda approve of some divorces; those people weren’t right for one another, and better they just ended things than struggled to work things out, and grew in character, and learned to be good spouses.

See, people only get “righteously angry” about the things which offend us personally. We claim it’s “righteous anger” because we figure God’ll back us up. He’s the excuse. Not the cause.

In contrast Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. Those people he considers awesome, and calls ’em God’s children. Mt 5.9 Not the “righteously angry,” who are far from peaceful. Not the people who practice behavior which the Spirit never inspired, and claim God justifies their cause—and in so doing take his name in vain.

Yeah, sometimes in life we’re gonna get angry. It happens. Fine; be angry. But, as Paul advised the Ephesians, don’t sin. Get it out of your system before sundown. Ep 4.26 All of it; don’t permit any bitter residual to stay behind. Recognize anger is like pain: It reveals to us something is wrong. But it doesn’t automatically mean something external is wrong. Just as often, something’s wrong with us. We’re broken. So we need to figure out where we’re broken, and get right in the head before we lash out and hurt others.

If there is an external thing to work on, respond to it like a peacemaker would: Restore relationships. Establish justice. Defend the weak. Love our neighbors. Do as Jesus does whenever he’s angry: Keep your head. Never harm. Love anyway. Forgive.

Like James said, “Men’s anger doesn’t empower God’s rightness.” Jm 1.20 The claim there’s such a thing as “righteous anger”? Unbiblical.