Monday, June 3, 2013

Anger: The Gift That Keeps on Taking

No way around it: We live in an angry world. Wars being waged, vicious expressions of opposing ideologies. Terrorists killing and maiming innocent people, seeking revenge or making violent statements for their cause. Drivers reacting in “road rage” against other drivers. Citizens protesting vehemently against all manner of issues.

I heard recently of a woman who launched into a tirade at a local restaurant simply because her fast-food pasta meal wasn’t prepared to her satisfaction. Everyone within a half-mile radius knew of her displeasure. She made such an angry impression, people in the establishment referred to her as “the spaghetti lady.”

A small group I attend just completed a study on anger, its causes and affects. It’s a complex emotion, for sure. It seems some people were born mad. Others walk around with the proverbial chip on their shoulder, daring anyone to knock it off. Some people seem less prone to anger, but none of us is immune.

In some cases anger is warranted, especially in the face of injustice. But it’s the consequences of anger that we recognize the most.

Unresolved anger, for example, can spawn hatred and bitterness. Those emotions, sadly, can be to the spirit what cancer is to the body: Destructive, debilitating, potentially fatal. It’s been said hatred destroys the vessel that contains it. While hatred may be directed toward other people or things, persons harboring hateful feelings seem themselves most adversely affected.

Similarly, there’s no way to sweeten the cup of bitterness. Its poison can destroy relationships between family and friends, and ultimately it can disrupt one’s relationship with God.

Knowing bitterness often grows out of refusal to forgive when wronged, Jesus addressed that issue. When His disciple Peter asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”, Jesus responded, “I do not say to you seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). If you’re doing the math, I don’t think He meant it’s okay not to forgive the 491st time.

After presenting His model prayer, in which He stated, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12), Jesus proceeded to explain, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15).

He wasn’t referring to eternal salvation, but fellowship – maintaining a healthy, unimpeded relationship with God. Failure to extend forgiveness, requested or not, is a sin, Jesus was saying. And sin of any kind disrupts daily fellowship with God, interferes with our prayers and communication with Him, and takes away the joy of His presence in our lives.

Forgiveness serves as an antidote to the poison of unresolved anger. It’s the willingness to surrender our “right” to get even, as well as our “right to be right.” It’s trusting God for meting out any appropriate penalty or punishment for wrongs committed.

Is that easy? No. Having a cancerous tumor removed isn’t easy either. But it’s better than letting it remain there to continue doing damage and causing pain.

The old song told us, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Maybe what it really needs is a strong dose of forgiveness.

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