Impelled to Act
The fact that an emotion may be pleasant does not make the quest for it desirable. The thrill of speed can be dangerous and deadly. The drive of sexual passion can throw you into deep trouble. Just the enjoyment of companionship can cause you to neglect important details and relationships in life.
It is the unpleasant emotions, however, that lead to the greatest troubles. The list by Strecker and Appel is unpleasant to read, but more so to experience. Unpleasant emotions impel you to act. In the case of anger, the impulse is to fight. The ultimate aim of fighting is to kill or destroy. Perhaps John had this in mind when he wrote: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).
The difference between mild anger and murder is only a matter of degree. If you grant the truth of this, then you should consider anger and its related emotions as the deadliest cancers and treat them as such.
Of course it takes a lot of anger to carry out the impulse to harm someone. But who at some time has not thrown something in disgust? Watch two schoolboys fighting. Neither means to stop till he has vanquished the other. Look at the newspaper headlines and you see that angry nations, movements, and ideologies are engaged in deadly struggles. James warned, “Where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there” (James 3:16). For the man who treasures envy and self-seeking in his heart, the impulse to hurt or to destroy is not far off.
Observe a child long enough and you will see demonstrated the angry heart. One day, I was a guest in a home where a three-year-old boy lived. To entertain him while my hostess prepared dinner, I gave him my billfold to play with. When he started removing the cards, I took it back from him. But this young fellow was not the type to easily give up something he wanted. First he begged me to give it to him. Then he said he wouldn’t like me if I did not do as he wished. Seeing that neither approach worked, he threw himself to the floor and kicked his feet up and down. This too failed to move me. He went off into another room and sulked.
Ruled by Wrath
Karl Menninger, the noted psychiatrist, says, “However sweetly we may interpret the fact, the human child usually begins his life in anger…the cry of the child just born has the tone not of lamentation, but of wrath” (Love Against Hate, Harcourt, Brace, and World, p. 9).
Many people never lose this natural tendency toward anger. Wayne Hartley was an angry man. He moved from job to job because “worldly people” irked him. Finally he landed at a firm with a Christian president. Here was a man he felt he could work for; he looked forward to a happy relationship on the job.
But things did not turn out that way. Hartley was made general manager, having a number of foremen to supervise. One of the foremen used a great deal of profanity. One day Hartley could stand his talk no longer, so he called him aside and ordered him to refrain. The foreman paid no attention. So Hartley warned him again, “Stop it–or you’ll get fired!”
The company president heard of Hartley’s ultimatum. He called his general manager in. “Joe’s got a foul mouth, I know,” the president said. “But he gets more work out of his crew than any of our other foremen.”
He told Hartley to leave the man alone. Hartley was not to impose his private standards on Joe or any other employee. Reluctantly Hartley accepted the president’s directive. But from that day on he felt he was constantly being overruled by the president. One day he stormed into the president’s office, demanding a showdown.
“Am I the general manager or not?” he thundered.
“Why do you ask? Do you think you are the president?”
Wayne Hartley saw red. He shouted at his superior, waving his finger under his nose. He was completely angry–-from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.
Telling of the incident later, Hartley said: “It takes a lot to get me mad, but when I am, the fur really flies. There we stood, toe to toe and nose to nose, yelling at each other. And both of us profess to be Christians. But you can be sure of this–-no non-Christian ever made me more miserable than that man.”
Did his boss cause Wayne Hartley to blow up?
“Who else?” Wayne demanded. “The last time he crossed me was the very last straw. I don’t lose control of myself unless I’m forced to.”
Here was a man who claimed to believe the Bible, which contains this verse: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you always having all sufficiency in all things, have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).
Could such grace be available to Wayne Hartley? Yes. First, however, he had to take an honest look at himself. When he did, he saw that he brought a spirit of antagonism to his new job. He didn’t like to be crossed–whether by the foreman who violated his standard of speech or by the president who refused to let Wayne impose his standard on another. The frustration of not getting his own way exposed the wrath within him, just as frustration generally exposes the inner life of a man.
In looking back over his life, Wayne Hartley could see that he had possessed an antagonistic spirit since childhood. It had come out at home, at school, toward his wife, and his children, toward anyone who thwarted him. He did not blow up very often, but when he did, everyone got out of his way. He controlled things pretty well by simply threatening to blow up. At times, however, he met persons who just let him blow. This was true of the people he worked with, and this explained why he moved from job to job. By such moves he was able to dismiss his own problem, saying that his reasons for moving were the worldliness, selfishness, or cantankerousness of others. He always had a good reason for his tantrums.
The Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26). What was Wayne Hartley doing? He was accumulating wrath day after day. He even denied that he himself had anything to do with it.
His situation could be likened to a sink with a dripping faucet. Put the plug in and the sink fills up. The next drop will cause the water to run over. Is it the last drop that spills the water onto the floor? No, it’s the last drop plus all the rest of the drops. Wayne Hartley had an irritable attitude toward life. Tiny irritations at home, at church, at work, on the way to and from work all slowly accumulated. At the same time pressure was increasing. Usually he could work off some of the pressure and drain away some of the irritation. But occasionally he was trapped; the last drop, or “the last straw,” would cause him to blow up.
For a long time he could not admit that he was an angry man. Therefore he had no need, no occasion, to pray for forgiveness or grace. He needed none, he told himself.
“I get along fine unless someone else is unreasonable,” he said. “And is it my fault if someone else is unreasonable?” Yet the Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (italics added).
When Wayne Hartley accepted the fact that the wrath was in him, he found help in dealing with it. And that is the good news for everyone filled with anger and malice and bitterness. The people in your life may never change their ways. Circumstances may be beyond your control. But fortunately you can do something about yourself. You can open your heart to God, who is able to fill it with bountiful grace. But whether you allow God to give you His grace is your decision.