CAN THERE BE ANYTHING SPIRITUAL ABOUT ANGER?

Many spiritually-minded people struggle with the idea that anger is unspiritual. Believing that it is can lead to guilt feelings about having any angry feelings at all.

My own thinking about anger has been influenced most by the rendering of Matthew 5:22 in the old King James Bible: whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause is in danger of the judgment. Only rarely does the KJV offer the better translation available of ancient biblical texts. Here, however, it most definitely does.

Most modern translations of the New Testament leave out of Matthew 5:22 the without a cause exception which the KJV includes. In doing so, they make the verse appear to condemn any expression of anger. One translation, The New English Bible, acknowledges the exception, but only backhandedly by way of a footnote: “Some witnesses insert without good cause.”

Unlike the New English Bible’s translators, those witnesses had it right, especially with the word “good” inserted as a modifier of the word “cause.” There are indeed good causes for anger, and working hard on never getting angry is not a good thing at all.

Jesus himself could not have condemned unconditionally any and all forms of anger. The very scriptures that say he did also report his becoming angry enough himself to call people fools, whited sepulchers, serpents and vipers (Matthew 23:19,27,33). Toward the end of his ministry he drove commercial activities off the Temple grounds in a veritable fit of righteous rage. Unlike much of ours, however, Jesus’ anger was for cause.

There is in fact a lot of anger expressed throughout the Bible. The God who inspired it comes across in it as very angry very often, as do the prophets who speak for Him. To many, myself included, not all of their anger seems justified.

But a lot of it does. It does because it is about peoples’ failures to live as they say they are going to live. More importantly, it is about peoples’ failures to treat others respectfully and fairly. Most importantly of all, it is about peoples’ failures to offer mercy and love in God’s name to everyone they meet.

Getting angry about moral failings, our own and others’, is spiritual in its very essence. It provides the energy needed for working on the condition not only of our own souls but that of the communities which nurture them.

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2 Responses to CAN THERE BE ANYTHING SPIRITUAL ABOUT ANGER?

  1. Jill Bramblett says:

    To add to Chuck’s comment about struggling to process anger and express it wisely, I believe a lot of people tend to react to a situation, rather than respond. Reaction requires little or no thought or introspection, but response does. Sometimes it’s better to take a moment and assess how we should respond rather than immediately react.

  2. Well said, Leroy! I’m one of those people who was trained to fear and hide my anger, to treat it as something too dangerous to be good in any way. I really like that you speak of righteous anger in terms of having good cause, such as these:

    “…peoples’ failures to live as they say they are going to live… to treat others respectfully and fairly… to offer mercy and love in God’s name to everyone they meet.”

    Even when we see the good in anger, some of us still struggle with how to process it and express it wisely. So much of how we express and attempt to satisfy our anger is just plain selfish. We lash out against others for exemplifying the parts of our own humanity that we refuse to acknowledge, and thus make them the scapegoats for our own secret guilt and shame. We judge and punish others to protect our own moral comfort and appearance of superiority. We too easily regard violence as a convenient means to superficial control, rather than allow our anger to urge us toward greater compassion and healing at deeper levels.

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