In my last post, I wrote about anger a little bit. Discussing it later with a friend was illuminating. We come at the issue from different viewpoints because we’re different people (although, in this particular case, it’s also because she is better at objectivity than I am :)). It is so interesting to me how much personal experience can influence our reading of the Bible. That is natural and can be appropriate, but I think it’s important to try to read for what was intended, too.
So… anger first. My general feeling is that we should avoid acting in anger. She argues that while we should be “…slow to anger…” (James 1:19), the emotion can be righteous and motivating. It’s hard for me to think of a time when my anger served a righteous purpose, so I suppose that is why I feel the way I do. I understand that injustice can make people angry and that can be a good thing. When you hear about starving children, for example, you might feel angry and choose to act. For me, anger has always been… counterproductive. It is an overwhelming emotion for me, not a focusing one, if that makes any sense at all.
When I was a kid I threw terrible tantrums. They followed me to elementary school and, I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say, even to middle school. They weren’t a result of lack of attention or discipline. My parents were incredibly loving and consistently disciplined and worked with me. I wish I could put into words my awe and gratitude for the way they kept their cool and supported me unfailingly through all those years when I should have left such things behind me. I don’t know who I would be if less patient people had raised me. My fits were never about wanting to hurt anyone or anything. They were a yell-and-stamp-my-foot-and-stalk-out kind of thing if I remember correctly. I hated the attention they earned me. It was humiliating. I just couldn’t seem to control my reaction to frustration. I remember acting like I didn’t care around my peers. I was proud and self-conscious. When I was at school, I think my fits were usually triggered when I didn’t understand something that was being taught. I remember all too clearly the feeling of desperation and mounting anger when I just couldn’t get it. I did get over it, thank God, and my memories of those tantrums are (also thankfully) pretty hazy now.
My point with all that background (which was surprisingly painful to share) is that anger has really negative associations for me; not that it doesn’t for most people, but I try extra hard to avoid frustration. I hate it when I feel it bubble up. I think my personal experience also affects the way I read scripture about the issue. I don’t know what my takeaway about the anger question is exactly, but these reflections have certainly served to remind me of the value in reading the Bible with other people. It can expose our biases and illumine things we didn’t see before. It can help us understand where other people are coming from. It can deepen our relationships.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.