No Flight for Anger

Storch attackiert Auto(courtesy Spiegel Online)

The town’s residents have dubbed him “Mr. Adeba” but this angry white stork is wearing out his welcome in northern Germany.  With his long hard beak he (or she; males are usually larger but look exactly like females) has done thousands of dollars of damage to local vehicles.  A Mr. Werth said he chased it away from his car only to have it turn on his neighbor’s car.  One woman awoke to find him banging wildly on her screen door.

Local officials say they’ve got no solution but to endure until it’s time to migrate.

Angry birds might leave at the end of the season but angry people rarely do.  For large or small reasons, real or imagined slights, people with hot tempers live among others like ticking time bombs waiting for the next detonator.  Those in their circles learn to choose their words carefully, eliminate problems that could begin a countdown, and avoid antagonizing words or behaviors.  That those around them must walk on eggshells is OK with angry people because compliance with their own desires is their greatest lust.  If that takes intimidation, so be it.

Researchers blame a particular version of the dopamine-producing gene DARPP-32 for elevated levels of anger and aggression.  But they caution that only about half of our reactions can be blamed on genetics.  The remaining half is in our hands.

Trailing behind angry people is a toxic sludge of crime, fear and unpleasantness oozing across the social landscape.  Following a recent NFL game, a male Jets fan slugged a female Patriot’s fan after the Jets’ win.  A week later a Chinese immigrant in NYC murdered a mother and her four young children because he envied her success in this country.  A man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God requires but it’s sure effective at starting a fight, encouraging abuse, demeaning others, leading to murder, and prompting people to swear and scream.

None of us are immune.  Everyone has an anger button that will be pushed if conditions are right.  Why?  Especially if we don’t have that toxic gene?  Those habitually angry often have roots that started growing in their formative years.  If, for example, a child is coddled and given everything he wants by indulgent parents, there’s going to be a blowup when his wife fails to act like his parents did.  Or, the girl who grew up with insecurities common to those denied love by absent parents, may demand it from everyone around her and lash out when she thinks it’s in short supply.  Children who were abused, abandoned–even adopted can grow up with an anger complex rooted in pain, sorrow or confusion about events and conditions of their childhood.

Some anger is good.  The apostle Paul was angry with the Corinthian Christians at being taken in by a group of “superapostles” who were not sent by God.  Jesus was so angry at the marketing to–and cheating of–pilgrims at the temple that he drove the violators out with whip in hand.  After reading the evidence Thomas Clarkson had accumulated against Britain’s slave trade, an angry William Wilberforce fought against the abomination in parliament for 20 years and finally defeated it.  God’s wrath at man’s rebellion is not due to a bad gene or character flaw in Him: it’s the only possible manifestation of His holiness towards mankind’s sin.

But human history has devoted far fewer pages to “noble” anger than its distant–and much more common cousin–selfish anger.  Which surfaced early.  After learning that God accepted his brother’s sacrifices and not his, Cain murdered his brother in a jealous rage.

By selfish anger I mean getting upset with someone or a situation because things aren’t going my way.

“I can’t believe you did that!!”

“Don’t ever try that again!!”

“You make me so mad!!”

In fact, scratch the yelling, cursing, abuse, taunting, and crimes committed in anger deeply enough, and that’s what we’ll find at the bottom: “I can’t have it that I can’t have my way.”  In other words, like all sins, anger’s foundation is pride.  It was true of Cain, Esau, Ahab, Haman, Jonah, and a billion offenders like you and me since.  (Some of the angriest people are not explosive, but quietly seethe.  Like the exploders, they too are upset that things don’t go the way they know they should.)

An angry person can now actually take a course on anger management (or just watch the movie!).  And with determination and practice, anyone can change their angry habits to some extent.  But the rich, life-giving and liberating work that can actually soften an angry man’s typical reactions–or bring more peace to a volatile woman when her plans are interrupted by someone or something, is done at the heart level where a person begins to accept the rule of a sovereign God who loves His children and this world, and has our good at heart.  If I can relinquish the demand that life must unfold according to my wants and be content with an fully engaged Ruler whose plan might deviate from mine, I can increasingly react with peace instead of anger.  Abandoning the lust to make sure certain things happen and others don’t is not a loss of power, but an embrace of God’s power and His right to exercise it.

Remember the things I have done in the past.
For I alone am God!
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 Only I can tell you the future
before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
for I do whatever I wish.
11 I will call a swift bird of prey from the east—
a leader from a distant land to come and do my bidding.
I have said what I would do,
and I will do it.   
Isaiah 46:9-11