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The Danger of Anger
Anger is a normal sentiment we feel when something unjust has happened to us, or when someone has let us down or hurt us (whether deliberately or not). We can see many places in the Bible where God becomes angry. This anger usually comes as a reaction to injustice and sin. The problem with anger is not anger itself, but anger that remains unresolved, and that leads to bitterness and unforgiveness.
If we are very hurt and very angry, our anger can overcome us. Bitterness can take on a power all of its own. Bitterness towards the person who has hurt us or let us down leads to hate. This is quite the opposite of love - love being the experience that as Christians we should always aspire to know within us. We need to know God’s love for us. We also need to have a love for other people, and we can give this out of the inspirational love that God provides in our lives.
In Mark 11:25, we read of the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness is described as being necessarily present before we can know the forgiveness of God for our sins. So, first of all, we see that to forgive is an act of obedience. God requires this of us, and surely for a good reason. As God through Christ has forgiven us of so much sin, we need to respect this gift of forgiveness by extending a forgiving attitude towards those that have wronged us. The consequence of us not forgiving others would be an inability for us to know the forgiveness that God has offered us. If we are not merciful as he has been merciful to us, where really is our repentance? How can we claim to have known his grace?
Anger that is undealt with not only creates a rift between us and God, but also causes disfunctionality within us. If we want to be free of the pain and the affects of pain that our hurt emanates from within ourselves, we need to know healing. Without forgiveness, we are not co-operating with God’s will, and therefore are not in a place of Grace in order to receive healing for the hurt that we have experienced. Forgiveness is an essential element to the process of inner healing. The presence of bitterness also causes problems with our current, or any prospective friendships and relationships. It can act as a poison, gradually choking many aspects of our lives without us realising.
It has been claimed by some that deep bitterness can give rise to many emotional and psychological problems, for example such as depression or nervousness. Whether or not this is possible to establish, it is certainly not difficult to imagine bitterness being a major cause of such problems, at the least feeding and aggravating them. Also, we may locate our anger upon innocent parties who are around us, causing us to hurt others needlessly and potentially isolating us from the human contact that we all need.
Matthew 5: 21-26, covers anger, forgiveness and reconciliation. As Jesus clearly teaches, we should always try to make ammends with people that we have fallen out of friendship with. It may not always be the case that others are prepared to forgive us when we have wronged them, but the act of animating our remorse to them is essential. Through this act we are communicating our own desire for peace with the other person, as well as God’s requirement towards everyone of love and forgiveness.
Some mention should be made of “hidden anger”. This is anger which has been supressed, and which may come to the surface only occasionaly. People who have this type of anger may not usually be aware of it, but if someone does or says the wrong thing - perhaps a relatively innocent act or remark - they blow up in anger. The main point is that the amount of anger is not in proportion with the event in the present. The anger is sparked off by a trigger event in the present, but it is feeding off past hurt and damage. Such deeply burried anger all the more suggests deep hurt, and will require careful and systematic prayer counselling and also possibly conventional counselling, for it to be dealt with. This is apart from any other treatments that may be appropriate to that person, if they are suffering from any other emotional or psychological problems.
Dealing with Anger
It is often said that forgiveness is a process. Forgiveness can certainly be seen as an act of obedience. Even if we may still feel anger towards the one who has hurt us, and the effects of the damage - (emotional pain and other problems), are still with us, we can still be in an attitude of forgiveness to that person. We are effectively controlling our anger and inviting God to deal with it. Rather than the anger turning bad, and causing hate, we acknowledge it, state forgiveness and refuse through sheer will to engage in thoughts of bitterness, revenge or hate.
A feeling of complete forgiveness may take a significant amount of time to reach, as this often depends on the person receiving the full healing that God wants to impart to them - through his Spirit and through the work of Christian supporters. However, in being forgiving in our attitude and sentiments to the other person, and in avoiding thoughts and feelings of hate, we are being obedient to God’s command - even if anger is still present.
Forgiveness is not easy. Depending on the degree of hurt or betrayal that is involved, it will often take time and effort. However, when a hurt person actually comes to the place where they realise that their personal happiness, their emotional freedom, and their good relationship with God depends on that forgiveness, they have reached a point where they can move forward in hope. It should be said that there are times when we should be very cautious and sensible about how we practically extend forgiveness. If we feel comfortable and safe, it may be appropriate to tell the person who has hurt us that we have forgiven them. They might respond positively or negatively to this - either with remorse or with a denial that any wrong actually took place.
This type of statement can be very significant in the forgiveness and restoration process. It may enable better relations with that person. On the other hand, close relations with a person who has significantly hurt us always carries risks, and should be approached with wisdom. We have a right to guard our hearts from further hurt, and discernment is needed for us to see the degree of risk that we may be putting ourselves under. How close a friendship do we want to maintain with that person who has seriously let us down? What is safe? We certainly think that there are cases where it is justifiable to “downgrade” the closeness of some friendships. This is particularly where it is apparent that there is a significant risk for further hurt, and where the underlying causes of the initial problem have not been properly discussed and resolved.
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