“Do you do well to be angry?”
It’s a question God asks the pouting prophet Jonah sitting outside Nineveh, angry with God for sparing this city, Israel’s arch enemy. It’s a question we may well ask ourselves.
Yet another mass shooting resulting in the serious wounding of a senator and several others and the death of the 66 year old shooter, underscores the danger of unchecked anger. He called the President a “traitor” on social media, had been involved in a variety of angry altercations, and was deeply dissatisfied with the way things were going in the country.
Truthfully, he’s not so different from many, except that he made the fatal transition from anger to violence. We seem to live in a society with many angry people. It is dangerous to challenge rude or reckless behavior in a public setting. You could find yourself in a gunfight without even a knife.
Why are we so angry? I wonder if some of it is that everything from advertising to our schools suggest to us that we are the center of the universe and that we should fulfill all our longings. Reality doesn’t work like that. We share the planet with 7 billion other people. Maturity often calls upon us to live with unfulfilled desires. Yet we believe no one should get in our way on the road or delay us even a minute or two when we are running late for work or another scheduled event.
I also wonder if we are angry because we spend too much time listening to angry and inflammatory voices. Online pundits and much of the new media build their followings around arousing and feeding their following, no matter what the political persuasion. At times it can be quite entertaining, and then there is the twist, the inflammatory accusation, or even the suggest that the world would be a better place without X.
Most of us have enough of a sense of proportion to just laugh at this, or even the good sense to change the channel. But a steady diet of this can take its toll, kind of like too much refined sugar. Combined with personal frustrations and perhaps a sense of inadequacy, and inflammatory rhetoric ceases to be a laughing matter.
All this emphasizes how important it is to teach our children, and ourselves how to act constructively with our anger. We all experience anger, but the trick is figuring out how to use it constructively. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Be angry yet do not sin, do not let the sun set on your anger.” Yes we do get angry, but it doesn’t have to end badly. You can write that letter to your congressperson, propose that compromise with a co-worker you don’t see eye to eye with. Maybe going for a walk, a run, or digging your garden gives you time to work off the adrenaline and get some perspective.
Paul also makes a good observation, that anger is best when it is a brief moment, rather than a way of life. It is when it festers and grows bitter that it can become lethal. Anger is a place we are all going to visit, but none of us should live there.
So we might ask, “do we do well to be angry?” And with this, we might also ask, do we do well to arouse another’s anger, and to feed a lingering, free-floating sense of anger at the world, toward a particular group of people, a particular party?
It’s not just for ourselves that we might ask these things. It is also for those most vulnerable to giving way to anger. Contrary to the angry Cain’s question, we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. While I think people are responsible for their own anger, I would not want to be the one to help ratchet up the anger of another.
“Do you do well to be angry?”