A few weeks ago I was in a small group sharing, and one person began to share about recent a Bible study session where the subject got around to wrath. What is wrath? Is it okay to be angry? That sort of thing. Some folks of course thought it was ok to be angry and others thought is was sinful.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines wrath as extreme anger with the Full Definition of WRATH as:
- strong vengeful anger or indignation
- retributory punishment for an offense or a crime : divine chastisement
I found this whole pattern a bit unsettling. Anger is. And asking if it’s okay to be angry or is it sinful is just the wrong question.
Anger alerts me to the fact that I feel threatened, or hurt or disrespected. Or that I sense that someone or something I love is in danger or hurting or being disrespected. Anger can fire me up to take action. The classic example of that might be Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple.
The first step, IMHO, is to step back when I am angry and look deeper. If I accept that I am God’s beloved child, then often the anger begins to subside — after all, what that other person did or said cannot actually kill or harm that part of me that is God’s child. Or, I can move beyond anger to sorrow that someone else is so broken that they would do some of the horrible things that are being done in this world. If I can move beyond anger I might just get to a place where I might actually be able help in righting a wrong, or healing a hurt.
Yes — anger is a big red flag. It is a sign that something is wrong. Might be something wrong inside me, or something wrong in the world around me. But asking if it is a sin? That’s just the wrong question.
Have you ever heard a “born-again” Christian refer to being “convicted”? I’ve spend some time thinking about that phrasing. So often it is taken to mean that Jesus, as judge and jury has taken someone into a court of law, and tried that person and found that person “guilty.” An unloving, uncharitable, hard-line image, to me.
Then I think a bit further. I observe in myself and those whom I come in contact with. I observe emotional reactions. Those things which bring out violent or visceral emotional reactions seem to me to fall into a couple of categories — and these probably dissolve into a single category. These reactions are generally associated with hurt or fear. I only experience hurt and/or fear when I am protecting something, it seems. That is, I react most strongly when I am not sure that my borders are not being breached. That could be protecting a child or a friend. Or it could be just protecting my own ego. I will fight to defend my child or sister/brother, mom, spouse or friend. True. But, I will fight even harder at times to protect my image of myself…
My strongest reaction by far is when someone touches a nerve and moves into that space that might cause me to have to change — or at least evaluate the need to change. Someone, be they friend or foe, makes an observation about me that really makes me angry… My response becomes: Unfair! You have no right! Why are you trying to hurt me! Get away! Leave me alone! You are SO wrong! And then I stop and reflect on my reaction. It is the strongest when I suspect that the observer might be right or might be on to some log in my own eye.
The other side of that coin is when I say something that causes the flash of anger in another person. I must evaluate what is happening: Am I being unjust or wrong? Or did I step into that place that perhaps they already see a problem? Am I doing it to hurt someone (and make myself look better) or did I simply state a truth that was received badly?
And so I reflect on what “conviction” means in the sense of that Christian I referenced in the first sentence. I look in the mirror of God and find that I am in drastic need of change — God/Jesus doesn’t convict me or sentence me. I see the reflection that tells me that this must change. I see Love in the mirror that tells me it can change. I see more Love in the mirror that tells me that I’ll not ride into that change alone.