procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Getting Angry

Here's a short talk i did this week on anger.


Marcion is one of the earliest, and most interesting heretics.
he's the guy 1st/2nd Century who had two Gods - the jealous creator God of the OT, who is all about reciprocal justice, punishment - in sum, an angry God.
the other God was the one Jesus professed - characterised by love, benevolence, forgiveness, mercy.


And we can get where Marcion is coming from - the God we meet as we read through the OT is an angry God.
he is constantly provoked, and responds in anger. and yes, he is slow to anger, but he gets angry, and when he gets angry, Israel get exiled.


In contrast, the God of the NT says 'no' to anger:
  • 2 Cor 12.20 
  • Gal 5.20 
  • Eph 4.31 
  • Eph 6.4 
  • Col 3.8 
  • 1 Tim 2.8 
  • Jas 1.19-20 
these all say no to anger. anger is the antithesis of the new Christian life.
the one who is born again is no longer angry.
this is one of those things which the gospel tells us to put off.
Col 3 is a perfect example with a classic vice/virtue list.
Put to death and put away, among other things, Col 3.8 anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk.
These are all part of the old self Col 3.9.
But Col 3.10 we've put on the new self, which is modelled after and renewed in Christ.


before we think about what this looks like, let's have a quick think about what anger is, what it looks like, and what it might mean to put it off.
so what is anger?
all the related words (anger, wrath, malice) are along some spectrum of displeasure.
they may be internalised, or realised in some way.
psychologically anger is a response to a threat - something important to us is threatened, and one response to that threat is anger.
now what is threatened might be a good thing to be worried about, but it also might not be.
it might be a loved one, a virtue, a value. but it may also be our own kingdom, our own plans. our own sense of worth.
sometimes it's hard to work out disentangle the reason - if someone lies to your face or about you - is it what's right and wrong, is it betrayal, or is it just that people won't think you're perfect any more?

personally, i am someone who historically has gotten angry a lot.
i used to get on detention a lot in primary school, not for ever starting a fight, but for retaliating, for hitting back, for not letting sleeping dogs lie.
And anger has continued to characterise my response to many many situations.
Living in Sydney's eastern suburbs, not being able to park anywhere - there was literally no spot to put my car - within a reasonable walk from my house, used to drive me absolutely mental. I used to curse the apartment blocks, the boats, the scooters, people taking up more than one spot, parking inspectors, fig trees, backpackers, abandoned cars; everything and everyone.

In Joined Up Life, Andrew Cameron describes his journey as an angry man. He writes that when anyone questioned the compatibility of his anger with his Christian faith, he received such criticism as questioning his very identity - that's just who he is.
But what he came to understand, and what I need to understand, and what we need to understand, is our own identity - not from our own perspective, but from Christ's perspective.
It's a question of identity.

for example] 

have a think about when you've been recently angry, whether it was with unreasonable demands from your family, with systems and structures, with sermon feedback, with tardiness or non-attendance.
How much of your response is tied up not with righteous anger, but with pride, on insisting on things you see as key to your identity?
do you get angry playing sport? with traffic? when your computer doesn't work?
have a think, what is being threatened?

The Bible teaches us that wrath is rightly left to God, for in him alone is anger orderly, pure and rightly expressed. Whereas mine isn't. God teaches us that our way of relating to him and to others is primarily in response not to his anger but to his mercy, as we understand it in Christ.

good anger] 

i chatted to someone who's just written a paper on Anger - and he describes a pathway of anger which is godly, and modelled after God. the key, for him, was seeing God describing himself as a jealous God.
Love-driven-jealousy expressed in anger is what is modelled by God in the OT, shown in Jesus, and evident in Paul where he confronts immorality and false teachers, as well as in Jude and 2 Peter in conflict with heretics.

now, this friend has done much more thinking and reading than me about the topic, and his pathway makes sense to me.
But I think the danger of thinking about righteous anger is that our intentions are so easily perverted by sin.
it's so easy.
sin is so pervasive that we can be angry at appropriate evils, but for the wrong reasons.
and even if we are angry for the right reasons, anger can so easily lead to things that aren't right - obscene speech, lack of self-control - even, as we see with Cain and many other crimes of passion, to violence and murder.

what we need to hear]

So the opportunity for righteous anger is not what I first need to hear.
I don't need to hear the two times some measured anger is permitted in the NT.
I need to hear the many other times anger is referred to as a wicked vice, that anger does not produce the righteousness of God.
ultimately, we treat others in response to God's treatment of us. less anger, more compassion, more mercy, more love, and more prayer, for it is hard to be angry at those you pray for in love.
and we need to keep reconsidering our own hearts and our identity.
are we angry at the same time as living out all the other virtues in the list?
or is anger another example that we haven't truly put on the new life, that the peace of Christ doesn't truly rule our hearts?

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Blogger throne-of-blood said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:37 pm  
Blogger psychodougie said...

thanks for your contribution t.o.b. (do i know you in real life? - your profile isn't public)

on your first query:
an alcoholic doesn't need to hear that a little wine is good for the stomach, but that drunkeness is a dangerous think. someone surrounded by affluence doesn't need to hear money is a great thing, they need to hear that greed will send you to hell (1 Tim 6).
so whilst acknowledging there are times when anger is a legitimate threat response (to, say, God's honour), many of us struggle with anger as a vice - which is why it is regarded most of the times as a vice.
the two examples where it's not so (Eph 4, James 1) are still not wholehearted commendations, but cautionary allowances.

on your second query:
yep, that's right. there are examples of Jesus getting angry, and he, i presume, followed the pathway of love-driven jealousy expressed in anger.
that's what we see in Paul's vitriol, as well as Peter and Jude.
and if you can be angry without sin creeping in, then that's what you want to be doing.
but if anger is our default reaction, it can lead to all kinds of badness.

we shouldn't simply ignore our anger, no, and having been on the receiving end of the explosion of repressed anger, i would not recommend that pathway. but we want to a) identify what's being threatened, b) think about whether we're responding out of love, and c) make sure we're putting on compassion, humility, forbearance and love.
so the key is not repressing anger, but for anger to be replaced by a higher calling - love.

feel free to come back at me.

8:27 pm  
Blogger throne-of-blood said...

thanks very much - satisfied with your reply - thanks again for your post!

9:17 pm  
Blogger psychodougie said...


for those interested (i'm not sure if i made it disappear), here's the original comment:

Some questions your post raised in my thinking were:

- Regarding your comment that "I don't need to hear the two times some measured anger is permitted in the NT", I'm wondering if you aren't in danger of proof-texting to support your argument?

- I was also wondering about what Christ's examples of anger - at his disciples, the Jewish authorities, the Temple and so forth help us to think about our anger. Should we simply ignore our anger?

9:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Marcion is one of the earliest, and most interesting heretics."

The truth is there is no such thing as heretics. Every denomination in Christianity is considered heretical by some other denomination. They tend to mutually consider each other heretics. Objectively, however, there are no heretics because its all in the eye of the beholder. And Marcion had his own church. Its not like he was sitting in the Catholic church trying to divide it. He was the main evangelist of a rival denomination. It would be like the Catholic church a few years back calling Billy Graham a heretic. Its just silly. Christianity -- every form of it -- is just an interpretation of an event, or sequence of events. Nobody's interpretation of what Jesus' death means is objective -- all are subjective. As such, there is no objective orthodoxy or heresy -- its all subjective to what you want it to be.

10:26 am  
Blogger psychodougie said...

thanks for your thoughtful comment anon, but i (as you could easily guess) must disagree.

thankfully we have Scripture as our arbiter. the reformers could therefore point back to Scripture to see where Roman Catholicism had erred. and the Roman Catholic church would likewise need to test what Billy Graham said against Scripture (were that their arbiter, but that's another issue).

so Marcion, understanding God(s) as he did, needed to then go back and revise his own canon. which meant rejecting the OT, and much of the NT. at which point, you could fairly say he was no longer part of the Christian tradition as centred in Jesus.

the OT was okay for Jesus himself - Luke 24.27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Marcion however said Jesus followed a different God. which leaves us with the choice of understanding Jesus the way Jesus understood himself, or Marcion's way.

While i don't want to be simplistic, that's what it comes down to. in contrast, just from your brief statement, this view smacks of naïve post-modern historical revisionism.

2:36 pm  

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