The Christian is not someone devoid of feelings. In fact, the Christian actually ought to feel things more deeply than other people do. As GK Chesteron puts it:
“We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return to at evening.”
To elaborate, you might say that the Christian not only feels joy, but a deeper joy because we know the true source of lasting joy. The Christian not only feels sadness, but a deeper sadness because we know the true broken state of the world in which we live. And when it comes to anger? Well, the same principle applies.
Yes, we can and should feel all these things. And yet our feelings, like every other part of us, must be brought under the authority of the lordship of Jesus. That is, as we are being made into the image of Jesus day by day, every part of ourselves is being influenced such that as time goes by, we not only behave like Jesus; we come to feel as Jesus felt. Our emotions, too, must be sanctified. Through the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, our love moves past sentiment. Our joy moves past circumstantial happiness. And our anger moves beyond irritation. All our emotions are shaped by our experience with the gospel. Here are three ways that happens in the case of our anger:
1. The gospel informs the object of your anger.
Yes, Christians get angry. Even should get angry. But there is a difference between experiencing anger, and being an angry person. In the case of the former, the gospel moves us to a point where our anger is sharpened around the appropriate object. When we get angry, we can easily justify that emotion, but the problem with that justification is just that – it’s many times a justification. In reality, we are angry because someone or something has upset our convenience, infringed on our perceived rights, or has injured our ego. But the gospel, over time, helps us have clarity as to what is actually making us angry. And over time, we learn that our true motivation is rarely as pure as we think it is in the moment.
Over the time we spend with Jesus, we learn little by little to let go of our rights. We learn the discipline of dying to ourselves. And as we do, we find ourselves become angry less and less often at the things that infringe on or inconvenience us. Conversely, though, we also find ourselves getting more and more angry at the things that really should anger us. By God’s grace, in other words, we are growing to take ourselves out of the equation.
2. The gospel alters the speed of your anger.
Apart from Christ, we would be angry people indeed, because without Christ, our highest aim is our own comfort and advancement. If that’s true, then we should be angry all the time because we will be daily confronted with all kinds of things and people that threaten that comfort and personal advancement – and we should be angry fast. But the gospel tempers that speed.
As we grow in Christ, we are reminded of our own imperfections. Our own sin. And in that reminding, we also remember that in almost every case, there is something we don’t know. So the pace of our anger slows down because we stop assuming someone is attacking us, and we start assuming that we need to learn another part of the story. The building of our anger is slowed down. But the releasing of our anger is simultaneously sped up. We can, as we remember our own sin and the forgiveness that’s come by Jesus, more quickly move through and past our anger. In either case – whether slowing down the build or speeding up the resolution – the pace is altered.
3. The gospel tempers the expression of your anger.
“Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity” (Eph. 4:26-27).
Notice the command here – it’s not to not get angry; instead, it’s focused on the expression of that anger. We are, as Christians, to make sure that when we do get angry, that we don’t sinfully express that anger. See, there is a double danger here for us – first of all, there is the danger that we get angry at the wrong things, and even when we are angry at something that deserves it, there is the temptation to act wrongly in response to that anger.
The response, for the Christian, is built into that fruit of the spirit called “self-control.” This, too, is only a work of God in our hearts and lives, so that our anger doesn’t come out sideways but instead is measured, controlled, clear, and actually productive. And that last one is key – if we aren’t productive in our anger, then the real beneficiary of that anger is us. It’s only, in the end, to make us feel better rather than to effect some kind of change in the world.
These are angry times. Very angry in fact. And at least some, if not much, of that anger is warranted. But as Christians, we must be diligent to make sure that even as we become angry, we are bringing the truth of the gospel to bear on that emotion. Not so we don’t feel it, but so that we feel it rightly.