Several years ago, I started exploring the idea that God equipped us with our emotions for good reason—specifically those emotions that we tend to categorize as negative or undesirable. I have written about how I believe fear may be a great indicator to check in with God; how guilt may serve as a prompt to participate in God’s plan to heal our broken world; and even how doubt may help us manage tension and hold space for God’s truth until we are ready to allow Jesus to help us overcome unbelief. Anger definitely has a spot in this category, and I’ve spent quite some time contemplating and praying for guidance about the ways we can use our anger as a tool for God’s purposes.
Anger is one of our most basic emotions, and a normal, common element of the human experience. However, this complex and powerful emotion can often mask deeper underlying feelings or be employed as a defense mechanism to combat a lack of understanding or loss of control. Anger may prompt a strong physiological response, making it more difficult to recognize or acknowledge other linked emotions. On top of it all, different people may respond differently to similar anger triggering events based on factors like personality, logic, past experience, and a number of environmental considerations.
Whether we’re feeling angry or facing the anger of another person, navigating the complex impact of anger can leave us feeling weary and burdened. Researcher and Author Brené Brown says, “Anger is a powerful catalyst, but a life-sucking companion.” Anger costs us so much spiritual energy, crowding out our emotional capacity for more desirable feelings like happiness and fulfillment—which is why I believe we humans tend to categorize anger as a negative emotion.
As unpleasant as it can sometimes be, I still believe that God gave us our anger on purpose. And if God has a purpose for anger, you better believe that evil will be poised to hijack it with a goal of death and destruction. Unchecked anger can shatter meaningful relationships. An article from Psychology Today states, “Prolonged release of the stress hormones that accompany anger can destroy neurons in areas of the brain associated with judgment and short-term memory, and weaken the immune system.” I think this certainly could be the reason the Bible advises against unrestrained, corrosive anger and encourages us to seek patience, self-control, and forgiveness in our interactions with others.
Let’s take a look at it from another biblical perspective. If we’re not intentionally harnessing anger to serve God’s purposes, we are likely using anger for personal protection or power. Our anger may become a weapon or a shield, meaning that we’re not relying on the armor of God for our protection and we’re not seeking to be made perfect in God’s power. As followers of Christ, we must strive to harness our anger to bring glory to God—not to ourselves.
So how do we harness anger to serve the good purposes of God? I believe the first step lies in conditioning ourselves to see anger as a signal to first look inward and develop greater emotional awareness. Such awareness can disarm anger’s destructive impulse and calm our frazzled nerves. If we take the time to identify our own common triggers, God can equip us to defuse those triggers and observe anger as His cue in our life.
Building a greater level of self-awareness initiates the exploration of underlying emotions. A myriad of emotions can be tied to anger, and so our exploration becomes a very personal process of discovery. In general, I believe questions such as the following can help us to get started as we seek to uncover these hidden emotions within ourselves:
• Is the triggering event of this episode of anger similar to any events in the past?
• Am I upset about the resulting outcome of this triggering event, or is there more?
• Would I be just as angry if the triggering event happened with a different person?
• What do I feel would be necessary for reconciliation and to fully resolve this anger?
• Is there anything about this episode of anger that leaves me feeling convicted or that is difficult to acknowledge? If so, why?
• How would I explain the reason for my anger to Jesus (who I know loves me unconditionally, but would also speak the truth to me in love)?
Writing down answers to questions like this can be particularly helpful when probing for additional feelings that are packaged with anger. We may subconsciously dwell in our anger to protect our-selves from feelings of embarrassment, sadness, disgust, or jealousy, to name a few. We may also use it to promote feelings of righteousness, superiority, authority, or vengeance. I under-stand that wading through these hidden emotions can feel uncomfortable and even downright dangerous. But safety is at hand when we invite the Holy Spirit into our process.
I find it helpful to remember that God demonstrates a pattern of working through broken people for momentous purposes. My favorite example relating to anger is Moses in Exodus 32:19—”When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with an-ger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.” Just a hunch, but I suspect that God probably was not entirely pleased that Moses smashed the first set of tablets containing the Ten Commandments at the foot of that mountain because he was mad. God knows we make mistakes, and God infuses us with His power when we humbly own up to those aspects of our own weakness. God loves each of us dearly.
The beautiful result when doing the difficult work of uncovering our buried emotions is the healing of our pain. One of the Six Broken Places of the World that Grace Church is called to participate with God in healing, Pain is the brokenness of our bodies, minds, and spirits. Our spirits suffer under the weight of unresolved emotions that are difficult to identify and articulate well. But once we find that clarity about what is truly bothering us—the emotions that are crying out in the form of anger—it’s like a weight is lifted and we feel renewed enough to keep moving forward. Some-times, we are able to release stored trauma from the past and get in touch with authentic facets of our own personality that may have been covered or protected by the expression of anger.
When we are able to attend to and work to heal our emotional wounds, new personal and spiritual growth is enabled. Embracing our vulnerabilities feels safer, and this is how we invite God to use the strength of His power through our weaknesses. With greater understanding of our own emotional landscape, we may even feel led to reconcile damaged relationships and forge deeper connections.
With the loving guidance of the Holy Spirit, I believe we can change our default response to anger in ways that invite God to work through us for important, life-giving purposes. Could it be that God installed anger as one of our basic emotions to serve as a cue that motivates us to do the work in ourselves that enables us to participate the purposes we were designed to accomplish? If we begin to live our lives believing that premise about anger, I trust that we will begin to experience a decrease in the destruction caused by our own anger. I also believe we can learn to mindfully harness anger as a catalyst to affect greater self-awareness, promote the healing of pain, and stimulate personal growth. With this in mind, anger looks a little less like a negative emotion, and a little more like the purposeful tool God intended it to be.