Anger, the exploding emotion
How do you deal with anger? How do you respond rightly when someone offends or frustrates you? Ungodly anger can rear its ugly head when we least expect it, threatening to poison our friendships, our families, our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ.
We need to take anger seriously. It is striking how frequently the theme of anger and revenge is touched upon in the Church of England’s Books of Homilies. Here are five truths to remind yourself when tempted to lash out in anger, with quotes from the Homilies interweaved.
1. God has shown you infinite mercy.
When offended, we tend to turn either outwards in retaliation or inwards in bitterness. There is, however, another way to turn. We can turn upwards in prayer and reframe the situation in the light of God’s mercy. The Homily on the Salvation of Mankind calls us always to consider the “infinite benefits of God, showed and given unto us, mercifully without our deserts”. In mercy, God has given his Son to suffer for our offences. In mercy, God has rescued us from death and hell. In mercy, he has made us his own children. The way the Lord moves us from a heart of malice to a heart of mercy is by showing us his own heart. As Scripture exhorts us, “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you”.
2. You also struggle with indwelling sin.
When ungodly anger rises in our hearts, our minds tend to drift into black and white thinking: we are in the right and they are in the wrong. We put ourselves on the pedestal and take the moral high ground. Far wiser is the advice at the end of the Homily on the Misery of All Mankind: “At all times let us learn to know ourselves, our frailty and weakness, without any craking [i.e. bragging] or boasting of our own good deeds and merits.” When offended against, we do well to remind ourselves that we too struggle with sin.
3. God has used the other person to bless you in the past.
Ungodly anger also tends to give us tunnel vision. Our whole mind focusses in on the occasion of the offence. We become blind to the ways that God may have used the other person in the past to bless us and help us. The Homily on Christian Love and Charity makes this point. Addressing this tunnel vision and the difficulty we have in loving those who offend us, it adds, “the burden should be easy enough if (on the other side) every man would consider what displeasure he hath done to his enemy again, and what pleasure he hath received of his enemy”.
4. God is involved in the situation for your good.
In the grip of ungodly anger, we tend to forget God’s providence over all things. The truth is that God is involved even in the nitty-gritty of our lives, even when others offend against us. While others may be seeking our harm, God is nevertheless sovereignly involved for our good. He is involved to grow us in holiness and to refine our faith. As the Homily for Rogation Week puts it, “though the minister [i.e. the offender as an instrument of God] other whiles doeth evil in his act, proceeding of malice, yet forasmuch as GOD turneth his evil act to a proof of our patience, we should rather submit ourself in patience”. Our Heavenly Father is not distant in such moments. He is involved for our good.
5. God will bless you and others as you submit to his way.
Lastly, when offended against, we are to humbly commit ourselves to walking God’s way. Where there is wrongdoing, we are neither to copy it nor ignore it. In strong mercy, we are to seek constructively whatever is good and right. In love, we are to bind up what is broken, trusting in the Lord as our shield and our defender. As the Homily against Strife and Contention puts it, “Overcome thine adversary with benefits and gentleness”. As we walk in Christian obedience, God promises us peace of conscience and the hope of glory. He promises to grow his kingdom both in us and through us, as we set an example of lively faith to others.
Revd Richard Power is Vicar of St Paul’s, Harold Hill. He is married to Arta, and they have three children, Lucy, Stephanie and Jane.
The Latimer Trust has published an excellent guide to the Homilies by Gerald Bray. Search in our Anglican Foundation series or buy it here.