Monday, September 5, 2005


So I've been reading what Jesus has to say about anger. I'm in the middle of Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy, which basically explores the Sermon on the Mount in the context of the Kingdom of God available through Jesus. It's kind of a heavy book (literally and figuratively) but it's so far been rewarding.

Anyway, in my experience the church tends to dismiss or explain away or just plain ignore the teachings of Jesus, particularly the ones we don't get. Especially the ones that don't fit into our pre-conceived idea that Jesus was only concerned about the individual salvation of souls after death. (I'm not saying he wasn't concerned about this, but if you read the biblical accounts, such a narrow interpretation of the "Gospel" just doesn't stand up to who Jesus was.)

Anyhoo, as I was reading that and looking at Jesus' words, like "If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell." Now as for the particulars, what the Greek really says is not to say to someone, "Raca!" which is an Aramaic expression of contempt, and not to call someone a fool. Easy enough, right? I can call someone all kinds of nasty hateful things without using the word fool. And it never occurred to me to diss someone with 1st century Palestinian Aramaic slang. I've got this anger thing handled.

Wait. No. I don't.

Because I get angry all the time. At crappy drivers, at all the bullcrap I see going on in the church, at people who simply annoy me. And at this moment I hear the gentle but firm voice of Jesus saying, "You've got to drop that crap. That bird won't fly." Willard goes into detail exploring how contempt, how anger and rage destroy us, and devalue the people around us. But it's not that hard to see how showing contempt for someone is totally incompatible with loving them the way Jesus does. Which is, of course, how I'm called to live.

How 'bout this? In the Kingdom of God (which I like to call God's Revolution) there will not be malice. There will not be contempt. There may perhaps be anger at injustice, but then there won't be any injustice, so there won't be a need for anger. In the Kingdom of God we will all be inspired and taught by Jesus to truly love our neighbor, our enemy, and everyone we meet (including ourselves).

So, if I don't let go of the anger I carry, if I don't learn to love in the way of Jesus rather than hate in the way of the world, I'll be hopelessly out of date in the Kingdom. I mean I'll just be totally behind the times. In the Kingdom, anger, lust, greed, and selfishness will be looked upon (rightfully) as incredibly backwards and destructive. Kind of how we look at medical leechings today. Or perhaps more accurately, how we see slavery. It's hard to imagine today how people who kept other people under subjugation could possibly think they were on the right track. Same thing with anger. We will look back and see this time in history and think we were totally blind.

I'd appreciate any prayers as God deals with this sin in my life. It's one of many, but I feel that the time to deal with this one is now.


James said...

(Pardon my use of the name "Insomniacman", or derivatives thereof, but I have no other idea how to address you. Disclaimer: I'm agnostic, but respect teh teachings of Jesus. I doubt that'll fit into what I have to say, but I reveal this in the interest of full disclosure.)

I found the bit about "raca" interesting as I always had been taught the bit about calling someone a fool. However, I've always understood "fool" to just mean demeaning a person. In fact, according to The Free Dictionary (, "raca" does in fact mean to demean someone's worth.

Anger is a natural emotion though. It's as natural as love, hate, lust and fear. Whilst some of these emotions clearly need to be contained (e.g. lust), some I think just need to be controlled in fruitful ways. For example, fear and anger can be directed in ways that are productive, such as averting a disaster, or making a more prudent business decision. I don't think Christ wants us to be in denial of anger, he just doesn't want us to lead another human being to believe, or treat another human being as worthless. After all, according to the Book we're all His children, and thus worth the cost of His life.

Now, from the agnostic point of view, I don't see a problem with healthy anger (see first paragraph), but misdirected anger is unhealthy and has been scientifically proven, as well as a total bottling of anger. Like everything in life, a balance must be achieved to be healthy or to exist nondestructively.

Travis Greene said...

I think you're quite right in a lot of what you say. There is certainly a healthy anger that has a place in our lives, such as instinctual anger when we're in danger, as well as anger about injustice that (hopefully) leads us to do something about it.

But I'd have to disagree with your comments about anger being natural. Obviously our differing beliefs come into play here. I'm not one of those people that think human beings are inherently totally evil and can't do anything right, but neither do I think human nature is entirely trustworthy. That is to say, we obviously have the capacity for great good and great evil. You can see this in young children. They can be an incredible joy, but at the same time, no one can be as truly cruel as a child.

My point is, just because something is natural doesn't mean it is good. But I think God wants to make us into people that are good, whose nature is good.

Now, of course, since we're starting with different assumptions we're going to end up with different conclusions. But without discussion and dialogue I don't think anyone learns anything, so I welcome disagreement.

And you can call me Travis, if you like.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiousity, in what way or situation is a child "truly cruel", unless they are predisposed to said cruel actions by parents or other adults that influence him. Also, pardon my pickiness, but in your first paragraph you stated that anger is instinctual and then you said that you didn't agree with James in believing that anger was natural. If I'm not mistaken, instincts are natural.

However, it is my take that anger is not natural. It is a secondary emotion that is learned as soon as the child builds a comprehension for language and feelings.

Regardless, I think that the main point is not to be controlled by emotions - you need to control them. Saying "Raca!" to someone, whether it is out of contempt or anger, it doesn't matter, you are overcome by the emotion and you aren't really thinking about what you're saying.

I think it absolutely absurd that you have to "let go of the anger I carry, if I don't learn to love in the way of Jesus rather than hate in the way of the world." Love is love, regardless of the different types/levels, it's still love - and hate is hate. Besides, you're worried about being "out of date in the Kindgom", is it a software upgrade that you forgot to do?

Travis Greene said...

Actually, software upgrade is not a bad analogy for what happens when you follow Jesus. The "old software" of an eye for an eye, for returning hate with hate, for putting yourself first, just doesn't work anymore. We need something new.

I can see why my comments on anger were confusing. But like Walt Whitman, I contain multitudes. I'm still trying to figure a lot of this out, so don't take what I write as a cogent argument, just thoughts I'm having. But overall, I think my point is that just because something like anger is natural, doesn't mean it's okay.

But children can be cruel, if they haven't learned that other people have feelings and that they matter. And that is something that has to be learned. We are born quite selfish.

I think what I'm trying to say (again, these are just thoughts) is that certain natural impulses are good and fine until you start to enjoy them and cultivate them on purpose. Anger at someone mistreating someone else, or perhaps someone treating you, is not a bad thing. But to dwell in that anger, to have contempt for someone else, even if (naturally speaking) they deserve it is not okay in the Kingdom. If someone cuts in front of you in line, a brief rush of anger is not wrong, but if you stew in it, raging at the person in your heart, wishing he was dead, feeling so self-righteous in your victimized state, you aren't living in the Kingdom.

Further, I disagree that "love is love" There are many different kinds and forms of love. The love you have for a parent is very different than the love for a spouse. They are both, however, equally natural. What is pretty unnatural, however, is to have love for everyone, including those you may have a right to be angry at. But this is what Jesus teaches and calls people to do.

Impossible, you say. Quite.

That's where Jesus comes in. His command to be perfect as God is perfect is not an exaggeration or poetic hyperbole. He intends to make us into the sort of people that can do what he says.

James said...

@anonymous: Anger is natural. Whilst I believe it is the product of chemical reactions, neuropetides and what have you, I will remind you in your own terms that Christ and God were known to get a little angry now and then. If Christ and God were angry, and we are made in the image of God, it is safe to assume anger is a God-given quality.

Looking forward to your next post Travis.

Travis Greene said...

James brings up an excellent point about the anger shown by Jesus, and indeed by God Himself. But there's a big difference between Jesus getting angry at hypocritical religious leaders swindling the poor masses and me bitching about traffic. That's the kind of anger I think unhealthy and wrong, not righteous indignation. Righteous anger is not against individuals, and never leads to contempt. Maybe anger isn't the right word for what I'm talking about. And btw, James, I'm titling my next post "When God was an atheist".