My Dad was a fine Christian man. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. Dad was widely respected and loved by his family, within our town, on his job, in the church and throughout all the circles of his life. Everyone liked Jack Chinn.
But, one day in 1956, he exploded in anger and severely punished me and my brother, Vernon. We did nothing wrong; he just became strangely furious and abusive. To this day, more than half a century later, Vernon, my mother, and I remain perplexed about what happened that day.
What caused such a fine man to explode? Although we will never know the reasons, we do have some clues. He had recently made a real estate investment which appeared to be bad. So, as a young husband and father of two little boys, he probably felt threatened with the prospect of losing everything. Like others of his generation, the Great Depression damaged him, and it was still (just twenty years afterwards) a powerful presence in the collective national memory.
Also, in a classic “dark night of the soul,” Dad struggled spiritually. The issue seemed to be about where he would place the boundaries of his service and devotion to the Lord. Another issue was his fairly recent military service; the crucible of war and the loss of so many friends haunted him.
Of course, I forgave him for his outburst before his passed away, but, as I’ve aged and come to a greater understanding of his emotional context at the time, I have a deeper reservoir of forgiveness and grace about the whole episode.
Ignoring the warning lights
Anger always reveals other mitigating factors going on down in the “springs of life.” In that sense, anger is a very helpful warning light on the “dashboard” of life.
We shouldn’t be paranoid or unduly sensitive about anger. Everyone has a capacity for it. Most of us have very normal (even healthy) flashes of anger when we witness cruelty, injustice, betrayal and other transgressions of people. God created our emotions. Anger certainly has a righteous role.
But burning or prolonged anger is a warning light that something is out of balance in life. Anger is closely tied to feeling threatened. A sense of threat, real or imagined, usually arises out of a perception of oppression, humiliation, injustice, physical danger or just a lack of control over our environment and circumstances.
Guilt can also trigger anger. For example, if we know or feel that we’ve violated the law (biblical, moral, or civic), we may live under a cloud that God or the IRS or the sheriff is about to get us. That lack of control over our circumstances can make us angry.
Of course, this territory of human psychology is not a recent discovery. People have always struggled with these issues. Rage exploded into murder in the very first family. So it may be useful to step out of 21st century thinking and literature and seek the more classic wisdom of the Bible on anger.
A biblical view of anger
The Bible is more real than it is religious. It portrays real people and speaks to real life situations. It is only the centuries of stained-glass culture which has turned it into religion.
What, then, does this very real book tell us about anger?
James wrote (1:19), “. . . let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” He isn’t saying that anger is wrong. Of course, we’re going to get angry; that’s just part of our creation package. Essentially, James just said, “Don’t be quick-tempered.”
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians almost the same thing: “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger . . .” (Ephesians 4:26).
Like James, he was realistic. After all, anger is part of life; just don’t let it carry you into sin. In these passages and many others, the Bible is basically saying to lead a balanced life.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:11: “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” In other words, balance gives a sense of discretion in life. And, it is the mark of wisdom to be able to overlook perceived transgressions.
A few verses earlier, Solomon wrote one of the great principles of balanced living: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
As in many other scriptures, the issue is not anger, but how much it controls us. Being slow to anger is a mark of strength, mastery, and leadership. Self control (ruling your spirit) brings more leadership and success than being able to capture a city.
Finally, Paul told the Christians in Ephesus: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
When we see the warning light of anger flashing on our dashboard, we don’t have to react in despair or recoil into guilt. Just repent of it, reject it, and walk away from it. Seek wise counsel in dealing with the issues below the hood. You will find that most of them are resolved through forgiveness.
Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas ([email protected]). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.