Sunday, 13 April 2014

Anger and the Passion: the Seven Deadly Sins

This is our last week dealing with the Seven Deadly Sins. We have been looking at them as diseases of the soul. They are a kind of heart disease. Talking about sin is not all that popular. It’s not good for our self-esteem, we say. It makes us feel bad. It’s a downer. … It’s true. It is a bit of a downer.
When I visit people in the hospital, especially when I was a chaplain, the people who were often the most stressed out were those who didn’t have a diagnosis yet. They have come into the hospital knowing something is not right. They don’t know what, but something isn’t right. They have pain where they shouldn’t have pain. They have dizziness that is making it difficult for them to drive. They are coughing and they don’t have a cold. They come in to the hospital and they get tests, but they haven’t gotten the results yet. They look at any little twitch of the doctor’s eyebrow for a clue as to whether they should be hopeful or prepare themselves for the worst, hoping for some ‘tell’ that will reveal hidden information. The question “What’s wrong with me?” follows them around. These people were often the ones who I found to be under the most stress.  If there is no diagnosis, there can be no cure. You can make the person comfortable. You can fill their room with flowers and balloons, but it will not provide a cure. It may provide a little comfort, but no cure. 
Good news for these patients is a diagnosis. When they know what is wrong with them they begin to relax. Even if it is a bad diagnosis they are sometimes less stressed because they at least know what is wrong, and they know what the next steps are going to be. 
We know our lives often don’t go the way we feel they should. We continue to hurt people and be hurt by them. There are too many “have nots” in the world. We see relationships fall apart because of adultery. We see families blow apart after a funeral as they argue about who gets what. We continuously gossip. We continuously lay judgement on others. Maybe we have a secret and we live in fear of being found out. Maybe we feel the need to drink too much alcohol, or we continuously are drawn to look at pornography. We are easily offended. We are very picky about having everything our way. We look down on people. We give creative hand gestures to people when we are driving.  … These are all symptoms of the sickness in our souls. We know something is not quite right, but without a diagnosis we struggle and stress in vain to make things better.       
A diagnosis is ‘good news’  . Sin is the disease of our souls. This sin can be broken into a few types. All sin seems to have some element of Pride. Other types are Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Sloth, and today we are looking at Anger. Without a diagnosis there is no cure. This is the diagnosis of our hearts. Most of the brokenness we experience in our lives is a result of these sins. We feel the symptoms either as our own sin, or because of the sin of someone else. Some suffering comes from natural disease and natural disasters, but the Bible even suggested a connection to sin with these. Without a diagnosis, there is no cure.  … Jesus, along with the prophets, give this diagnosis of the human heart and say the beginning of the cure is to “repent”. They call us to see the disease and not justify it. Face it and then turn from it. Turn away from every unloving act and unloving thought. Don’t justify it. Recognize it for the disease that it is and then turn from it. Repent.
When we recognize the disease and stop denying it we are ready for the cure. The medicine is in the form of God’s grace- humility treats pride; kindness treats envy; charity treats greed; chastity treats lust; temperance treats gluttony; diligence treats sloth; and the medicine for Anger is forgiveness. 
Anger is not automatically sin. We will naturally feel anger when something doesn’t go our way. If something or someone we value is disrespected or mistreated we will naturally feel anger. If someone is not behaving the way we think they should we might feel anger. That initial anger lets us know something is not going according to how we think things should go. The problem is that our anger makes us believe that everything should actually go our way, and because our soul is sick our character cannot handle anger without being destructive. It will always be destructive. I would venture to say that all action done in anger is wrong, and all words spoken in anger directed at someone else are destructive. Dwelling on anger in our minds can even be destructive. There is a very specific way to deal with anger in our minds so it will not become destructive.  Anger is incredibly destructive and dangerous. It is destructive not only for those on the end of our angry outburst, but it is also destructive to ourselves. It eats away at our souls.
Our first reaction to any sin is to justify it. So, we aren’t being greedy, we are just making sure we have enough to be secure. With anger we will sometimes try to rename it. “I’m not angry I’m frustrated”. With anger we usually justify it by saying that it is necessary for justice. Someone might get away with something. We need to point out their sin so they know, and so others know. What they did was wrong and we need to make sure they don’t get away with it.  The letter of James confronts our attempt to justify it 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). We try to justify our anger as fighting for justice or righteousness, but James says it is impossible. Use something else to get to that justice, use compassion, use kindness, use love, but not anger. Anger leads to destruction and your character can’t handle it. Anything that can be done in anger can be done better motivated by some other emotion. It is best if we can transform anger into some other emotion.  
Jesus and his saints have given very strong teachings about anger. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that anger in the soul is the equivalent of murder (Matt 5:22). We can imagine someone filled with murderous rage but unable to commit the act because of being in prison or a physical handicap, but the condition of the person’s heart could be the same as if they actually committed the act.  Paul teaches his churches to, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." (Eph 4:31; Col 3:8). And throughout the ages the wisdom of the saints have cautioned against anger.  St Augustine said, “It is better to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger than to admit it, no matter how small it is. Once let in, it is driven out again only with great difficulty. … There never was an angry man who thought his anger unjust”.  
Anger killed Jesus.  The anger of the people shouting “crucify” and the anger of the religious and political leaders. But, it wasn’t anger alone. Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, and Sloth were all there nailing him to the cross. We shout “hosanna” as he enters the city. Part of us knows he is our king, but part of us rejects him. Part of us doesn’t want to change. Part of us doesn’t want to have a king because we want to be king or queen. Quickly our “Hosanna”s turn to “Crucify him”. Whenever we submit to our Anger, or Pride, our soul shouts “Crucify”. Whenever we allow Envy, or Gluttony have its way we are nailing his wrists to the wood. When we let Lust, Greed, and Sloth take over our lives we nail his ankles to the cross and mock him. It’s these sins that hold Jesus to the cross.
If ever there was a just reason to be angry … Jesus had it. As an innocent man tortured and nailed to a cross he had a right to anger if ever anyone had a right to their anger. He could have spit curses from the cross, … but he didn’t.  Instead of a curse Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” … Think about that the next time you are angry. What did they do that made you angry? Jesus took all the damage human sin could do to him. And he responded not with anger, but with forgiveness. He lived what he taught and he opened a new way of life for his followers.

For those who saw that anger and revenge don’t work Jesus opened a new way of life. Jesus loving from his cross made it possible for Martin Luther King Jr. to preach these words in the midst of much violence and turmoil. In a sermon entitled “loving your enemies” he says, “To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘we shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non co-operation with evil is … a moral obligation. … Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.” (Strength to Love, p 40). That is the power of Christ’s cross. That is the power of love that destroys sin. So journey with Christ this holy week and remember his suffering, but also open yourself up to the transformation he wants for your heart. Open yourself to the heart surgery he wants to correct your heart disease.   

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