Monday, 12 March 2012

Anger for Christians? (my disorganized and messy notes)

Because the last sermon  I posted was about Jesus and his actions clearing the temple I only was able to hint at my thoughts on anger (I hope that I am learning to align my thoughts with Jesus').  The following are some more (sometimes random) thoughts on anger and some notes from other sources to provoke thought.  

            First, I want to acknowledge that it is not wrong to 'feel' anger. That is not something directly under our control. Similarly, having a sexual thought pop into your head is not lust. Indulging, however, in that thought is what transforms a passing and natural sexual thought into lust. I think that this is similar to anger. We may have an angry thought pass into our minds, but dwelling on it leads to sin.

            We often try to justify anger by saying it is necessary for justice. I think compassion is a much better (and less destructive) motivator than anger. When I see an injustice and I am motivated by anger I want to "destroy" the offender. When I am motivated by compassion I want to restore and protect the victim. Anger leans towards destruction. Compassion leads to peace and wholeness. I might even be able to get the same results through compassion as someone motivated by anger. What is better for my own soul and for all those involved? If I can, in compassion, place the offender in jail to be a part of reconciliation and reform isn't that better than doing the same in anger?

            We also sometimes try to justify ourselves by saying that God is sometimes angry in Scripture. Initially I want to point out the obvious that we are not God and so what scripture indicates as God's anger might be something very different from our anger. Also, God has perfect information and therefore is completely justified in His "anger". And on top of this, God is able to "feel anger" and use it in a way that we can't as fallen human beings. God has a strength of character that we lack, which allows Him to be angry in a justified way.  I don't put all my money on these points, but I think it's worth pointing out the above lest we fall into the trap of thinking that because God did something we can imitate Him. Just because Jesus raised Lazarus doesn't mean Jesus wants us to head down to the graveyard and call up dead relatives. We are not Jesus.          

            I'm also not saying that we should suppress our anger. In the case of suppression the anger still exists and we are hanging onto it. Suppression is really another way of hanging onto anger.

            We cannot ignore the fact that Jesus and his followers had very strong teachings about anger. It is very difficult to imagine living the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) if there is a hint of anger in one's mind. They often mention it as something dangerous. Something to hold back on. They acknowledge that we will feel it, but the caution us to not act on it. Jesus said in Matthew 5:22, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." St. Paul also reflects this teaching, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." ( Eph 4:31; Col 3:8). St. James also warns against anger saying, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20).
       The passage in James is particularly interesting in that we often justify our anger as a part of our desire for righteousness or justice, but James is plain in saying you can't get God's will through anger. A friend once taught a group of protesters about how to protest and he said something like, "Protest in a way that will show the kind of world you're hoping to achieve. If you are angry, you may be producing an angry world through your protesting". I suspect Jesus wants something similar. We are to be the people of the kingdom now. Does anger have a place in the kingdom?

            When I took Clinical Pastoral Education I was taught that anger was the experience of having one's values violated. Often anger is also connected to a violation in our past. Perhaps we deal with abandonment issues (for example) and that anger is triggered when we experience an event that hints at the violation of our value to be kept safe and in the company of those we care about.

            Here are some notes from the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. The article on Anger is by Dennis Okholm.  John Cassian (360-435) argues that anger can exclude God's Spirit from residing within, and therefore forbade expressions of anger. Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) describes anger as "a boiling and stirring up of wrath against one who has given injury or is thought to have done so".  To this Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) adds that it combines the pain of injury and the pleasures of vengeance and inflicting injury. Some monks believed it interfered with prayer. Some believed that it often arises when the desire to possess or control is thwarted.  Many have pointed out that anger clouds judgement and discernment. It is dangerous and it is often self-justifying. All warned about anger, some said all human expressions of anger were sinful.

            Anger was countered by the early Christians through the cultivation of the virtue of patience.
1) "Temporary silence and containment that allows one to recall the mercy of others in light of  one's own past transgressions, [this] widens the heart to offset the pressure that increases with anger's constriction, and allows a reappraisal (or reframing) of the situation that aroused the anger to consider whether the harm suffered was really done out of any forethought or ill will."

2) "One should not blame others for one's own inability to exercise the virtue of patience."

3) "People should seek the wisdom and exposure community provides"

4) "They should practice opposite behaviours, such as blessing persecutors and singing psalms."

5) "They must rebuff the need to be in control or possess."

6) "They must have self knowledge and recognize patterns and triggers so as not to be ambushed."

7) "They should Confront the injuring party (Matt. 5:23-26)"    

Here are some notes I took from a Lecture given by Dallas Willard.  Dallas Willard has defined Anger as "will to harm", "an announcement of pain", "the will to change". Anger is caused by the will being crossed. We think circumstances should be other than they are and this causes anger. Human character in most cases cannot handle the fire of anger. Anger also produces more anger in the one we are angry at. Everything you can do with anger you can do better without it. Anger justifies itself in the moment and therefore justifies actions done in anger. Dealing with anger: 1)Surrender your will to God (you don't have to get your way) 2)Living in thankfulness to God, rather than complaints to God for how God has (mis)treated you. 3) Confront the situation, but not in anger. Confronting in anger produces more anger and then the situation is harder to deal with because communication breaks down. 4) Recognize that God loves both you and the people who offended you. Do not see them as worth less than you. 5) The answer to contempt and anger is to willingly love instead.           

"Anger" is often held together with wrath which is one of the seven deadly sins. It's opposing virtue is "meekness".

Here some words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1765 There are many passions. The most fundamental passion is love, aroused by the attraction of the good. Love causes a desire for the absent good and the hope of obtaining it; this movement finds completion in the pleasure and joy of the good possessed. The apprehension of evil causes hatred, aversion, and fear of the impending evil; this movement ends in sadness at some present evil, or in the anger that resists it.

2259 In the account of Abel's murder by his brother Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of his fellow man. God declares the wickedness of this fratricide: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."

2302 By recalling the commandment, "You shall not kill," our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral.

Anger is a desire for revenge. "To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit," but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution "to correct vices and maintain justice." If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin. The Lord says, "Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment."

2262 In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, "You shall not kill," and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance. Going further, Christ asks his disciples to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies. He did not defend himself and told Peter to leave his sword in its sheath.

1866 Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called "capital" because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia.

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