I Pity the Fool: Anger

This morning we continue our series on the book of Proverbs – which is a curriculum for young adolescents about wisdom.  About living a wise life.  Wisdom is more than being smart – plenty of really intelligent fools.  More than morals- wisdom is the ability to see things for how they really are, and then make decisions in accordance with reality.

The book of proverbs is a collection of the sayings of Solomon, and it was written to be a guide to help adolescents grow into mature adults.  And if you ask many people – who was the wisest person in the Bible – many would say Solomon.

When Solomon became King he asked God to make him wise.  And so the story in the Bible is that God made him the wisest person on earth.

He was so wise – that his reputation grew and there is a famous story in 1 Kings 10 about the queen of Sheba – who came to Jerusalem to visit Solomon and to test his wisdom.  And by the end of her visit she lavishes this gold upon Solomon as being the wisest man on earth.

Now – Fast forward a thousand years to one day Jesus is standing and he is talking to the religious Pharisees who listen to Jesus but refuse to take him seriously and Jesus drops this line on the crowd.

Matthew 12:32  The queen of Sheba will also stand up against this generation on judgment day and condemn it, for she came from a distant land to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Now someone greater than Solomon is here—but you refuse to listen.

Here’s Jesus telling the world – that he is wiser than Solomon.  Love it!  And that’s good news today as we jump into the topic of the day. Because Jesus has much to say about the topic for the morning.

Last week we mentioned that wisdom is a path and it comes through the transformation of character.  So we talked about the importance of dealing with pride last week.

This morning we are going to talk about another character issue that – if we aren’t able to get ahead of – will make fools of us all.  Today we talk about dealing with our anger.

Proverbs 14:29 – People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness.

Proverbs 15:18  A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them.

Proverbs 19:19  Hot-tempered people must pay the penalty. If you rescue them once, you will have to do it again.

Proverbs 29:11  Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.

There are more, but these are enough to convict us, aren’t they?  No sense rubbing salt in the wounds.

But the reality is though that in both the Old Testament and the New – the bible insists that, if left unchecked, anger will eat your lunch.  Anger will rot your bones.  It will.

So, this morning, let’s talk about

What is anger?

Why is it so poisonous? 

Why is it so delicious?

Some very practical ideas to help us overcome anger.

First – what is anger?  Anger is a spontaneous feeling that arises to alert me that something or someone is obstructing my will.   I remember having a boisterous conversation with some people around a fire pit one night when someone said – “You know what drives me crazy?  People who drive 75 miles an hour in the left lane of the interstate!”  I know right?  I mean – if you want to drive 75 like some grandma then get over in the right lane with the trucks and I right?  In what should be a simple inconvenience – that person is impeding my will.

When my kids were very young – every night became a battle with them – and me getting mad – ten minutes after bedtime – I want some water…  Why you little!

I mean if your kid asks for water at 9:15 in the morning you’re like, sure buddy – I’ll get you some water – but at 9:15, when you’re dead tired and all you want is an hour to watch some TV and – that kid comes out of that room one more time – you’re all out of love.  The minutes after that – I have to go potty – and I’m scared of a noise – and – inside you are like – listen my little serf – I’m the king and you are not listening to the king!  My subjects are not obeying me!    

Anger alerts me – someone is obstructing my will. The first step towards overcoming anger is defining it. Another way to say it is, I’m not getting my way.  You aren’t doing what I think you should do!  You aren’t believing what I think you should believe.  But worse – you are keeping me from doing what I want.  And now I’m angry!

Now – I imagine that someone might object – and say – is there no such thing as righteous anger?  And yes – there is.  There should be some amount of righteous anger at the atrocities we see in the news.  There ought to be some righteous anger when we read about sex trafficking, child abuse, – thre is such a thing as righteous anger.

However – the vast majority of the anger you and I deal with have nothing to do with righteousness.  The vast majority of anger we deal with is – because someone offended my kingdom.

But didn’t Jesus get angry?  Yes – he did.  Jesus is the only one we can trust with anger.  He’s the only one who can handle anger without getting burned by it.  The rest of us are best advised throughout scripture to leave it alone.  To eliminate it entirely if possible.  Because Anger will rot your bones.  It’s poisonous.

And one of the reasons it’s so deadly is because it lulls us into thinking that we are behaving righteously.  That we stand on the side of truth!  And I’m telling you – there is nothing more dangerous than a person who has been pickled in their own self-righteous indignation.   

Why is anger so poisonous?

The universal response to anger is more anger.

Anger is a wildfire of destruction.  And it’s usually met with more fire.  Now there is a proverb (15:1) that says – A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.  And the normal response to anger is not a gentle answer, is it.  If someone flips you off in traffic you don’t normally respond with a gentle answer.  Usually – anger is met with more anger.

And the result is, a society that is sick with rage.  It’s sick with it.  Much of the world walks around one degree from the boiling point.

I remember watching this marvel movie and the gang is fighting a bunch of aliens in the streets of new york and Bruce Banner shows up who is of course the Hulk.  And the only line from the movie I remember is when Captain America looks at Bruce Banner and says – now might be a good time to get angry – and Bruce says – that’s my secret – I’m always angry and immediately turns into the hulk and smashes everything.

And I remember it struck a chord in me.  There’s a reason I remember that line.  At the time I was feeling a lot like old Bruce Banner.  I was, like many people, made a habit of walking around one degree shy of the boiling point.

I know I’m not alone.  Our society is sick with anger.  Anger is met with more anger.

Anger is poisonous because anger is met with more anger.  And the result is a society that is on tilt with rage.

Secondly – it’s poisonous because anger is an on-ramp to a world of sins.

Proverbs 29:22  An angry person starts fights; a hot-tempered person commits all kinds of sin.

Ephesians 4:26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you. “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

When we trace wrongdoing back to its roots in the human heart, we find that in the overwhelming number of cases it involves some form of anger.  Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy

3.  Because it is anti-love

Love wishes good things upon people.  We wish well – upon people – even people who are our enemies – love wishes well.

Jesus tells us in John 13 that the one distinguishing mark of a Christian is their love.  Not their righteous anger – but their love.  Well, anger impedes love.  it’s anti-love.  You cannot love well if you keep people in the prison of your righteous indignation.

There is a certain amount of malice in every degree of anger.  And it’s rotting our bones.  We cannot become the person God wishes us to become until we deal with anger.  We’ve got to run at the problem.

James 1:19 You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

So – if we all know anger is bad, why does it persist?

Why is it so delicious?

I’m going to put a couple of more quotes from Willard’s book up here – and here’s why.  Because this book was the beginning of God’s rescuing me from my own anger.  God has led me out of the valley of the shadow of rage and to a land of quiet waters – and he used this book as a guide for me.  So I present it to you with confidence in its wisdom.

Anger first arises spontaneously. But we can actively receive it and decide to indulge it, and we usually do. We may even become an angry person, and any incident can evoke from us a torrent of rage that is kept in constant readiness. Willard

When I read this I didn’t like it.  Indulge it?  What do you mean indulge it?  And I had to ask myself – why was I so often angry?  Was it because I liked being angry?  Was I getting something out of it?

And the answer is – yes I was.  Anger was delicious to me because it fattened up my ego – it nourished my self-righteousness.  “How could they do this to me!?”

Anger turns the smallest slight into an unbearable wrong.  We blow things entirely out of proportion. And the result is we lay in bed at night reminding ourselves of how wrongly we’ve been treated.

In this sense – anger is addictive.  Anger becomes a stream of self righteousness that feeds our ego.  It poisons me while it puffs me up.

And it’s got to go.  It’s got to go.  I want to encourage you – challenge you – with all of my being – stop thinking you have every right to be angry.  Give it up.  It’s time.

Are you ready to live life without anger?  You can do it.  God can create in you a loving heart that doesn’t need to bloat itself on anger at the smallest slight.

Now here’s the good news.  Remember Jesus?  The wisest man who ever lived?

In Matthew 5,6,7 – Jesus gives a remarkable sermon – and in it he looks regular old people like you and me right in the eyes and says – I’m going to make you the light of the world.  I’m going to make you the salt of the earth.  You.

I’m going to make you agents of God’s love and everywhere you go people will be glad you are part of their life.  That’s the kind of person e intends us to become.

But first – Jesus says, we need to attack those internal issues that are eating our lunch – those character traits that are impeding our growth as new kinds of humans.

And guess what the first thing that Jesus addresses?  The first thing Jesus lines up is – anger.

It is the elimination of anger and contempt that he presents as the first and fundamental step toward the rightness of the kingdom heart.  Willard Divine Conspiracy

Jesus is the smartest man who has ever lived and he says – the first step toward transformation of my life is the elimination of anger.  Now – when I read these words – I was struggling to overcome anger in my own life.

It was about – mid-40’s – and one day I was walking through the office and someone said to me – are you going to fight me?  And I said – what are you talking about – and they pointed out that I was walking around with my hands balled into fists.

And I began to notice that I was doing this quite a bit…And so one day I sit down and read this chapter about anger – and I read about Jesus’ saying – you cannot become the person he wants me to become until I deal with my anger…

And yet – rather than feeling discouraged, I was thrilled.  Because I knew if Jesus was smart enough to diagnose my problem he was smart enough to fix me.

And so began my journey towards a better kind of life – a better kind of living.  And I want to encourage you too – if you ever find yourself in anger – rejoice that you serve a God stronger than it.

We are all right now – shadows of our future self.  And Jesus can make me different than I am right now.

So let me talk about how God led me through some experiences that began to help me with my anger.  And you can try these out on your own any time you want.  I’m sharing with you my personal testimony of how God led me through the valley.

1.  Turn off your radio in your car.

Specifically – I listened to quite a bit of talk radio.  Mostly sports, but it really didn’t matter – most of talk radio – deals with something we should be outraged about.

I learned that my soul loved silence. And I can promise you your soul will also.

2.  Slow down.  Robert Barron writes, “The deepest part of the soul likes to go slow, since it seeks to savor rather than accomplish; it wants to rest in and contemplate the good rather than hurry off to another place.” 

Here’s a fun test for you.  I want you to go somewhere today quiet – and set an alarm on your phone for ten minutes and then put it face down. And see how long it takes you before you check your phone to see if maybe the alarm is broken?

Most people who have done this cannot last the ten minutes without agony.  And that’s a good sign that we need more of it.  One of the most transformative things for my soul was the day I was challenged to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life.

And so – I began leaving for appointments ten minutes earlier than I thought I needed to leave and drove a little slower and that also helped me siffon off the anger in my soul.

3.  Curtail your news reading and online presence.

I tried to curtail my reading of the news.  And it doesn’t matter if you prefer Fox news or you prefer the NY Times – the front page of both are filled with articles whose sole purpose is to stoke rage and contempt.   

Twitter is not helping you become less angry.  It doesn’t take much scrolling through your feed before you will be invited you to join someone in sharing their righteous indignation about something.

4.  Repeat after me.  “Not everything is a big hairy deal.”

I found a couple of quotes like this that sounded almost silly to say – to remind myself of the silliness of my angry response to little things.  Not everything is a big hairy deal.

5.  Be open to seeing a counselor

I went to Spence myself and began to see someone who really helped me understand that anger is often a response to people like me who were unable to process feelings super well.  It kind of boils inside and just becomes anger.

6.  Ask God to gently lead the way.

Remember the proverbs 15 – a gentle answer turns away wrath.  Jesus is the ultimate example.  He absorbed our anger against God on the cross.  Instead of responding to our anger at not being able to have our own way – God himself stopped the cycle of anger leading to more anger.

Jesus absorbed our anger on the cross.  He died and was buried and rose again in order to give us a new kind of life – and to help us become new kinds of people.  He is the wisest person in the universe and knows how to help us overcome our anger.