Anger is a basic, God-given emotion and an aspect of reality He intends to be there. It's something we all live with. It is good. But nothing can be as evil, either. Poets have forever compared love to fire, and however true that metaphor is, anger to fire is far more apt.
I don't think it's any secret (to put it mildly) that I've got no problem posting in anger from time to time. The most obvious and recent example and the one gave me the idea to address the issue directly was Audacity's mistranslation thread. During phil's response in capacity as moderator, he stated:
Philip wrote:While I think Jac took his response too far, I do see why he's upset. He really hates to see half-baked stuff floated. And then when he takes the time to thoughtfully respond to such, and he's met with just arrogance that shows one isn't serious about understanding the issue - well, it really ticks him off.
Note that I'm not challenging Phil's moderating. If he or others regard this as such, please know that's not the intent and lock the thread or delete it immediately. I really am wanting to discuss what I see to be a Christian perspective on anger and I think Phil's comments here are an instructive place to start.
So if it's permitted, I'd like to highlight this, as I think this is something that is extremely helpful to note--both in context of how the board functions and frankly how life works. Phil, what you say here is fundamentally true. I was "ticked off," and I remain so. Now, I don't think anybody would say there's anything wrong with being angry. We've all been to Sunday School enough to quote Eph 4:26 (Be angry, but do not sin). And that is the first as simplest observation. Anger, as noted above, is not a sin. It is good in and of itself. But it can obviously be used in a sinful way (just like anything good can). I think that anger happens to be the most dangerous thing we have in this regard. Nothing can more easily lead to sin or be more destructive than anger. For all the flack the sex drive gets at being so difficult to control and so easy to draw us into sin, anger is worse by magnitudes!
And that leads to a second observation. Despite the goodness of anger, it's tendency towards destructiveness (and even sin) means that we are very often afraid of it--both in ourselves and others. That last point is, in my opinion, very important. Western culture in general has been highly influenced by Judeo-Christian values, and the Sunday School lessons on forgiveness and turning the other cheek have become rooted at a deeply subconscious level in our various cultures. It's why very few people need a sermon on humility. We're all very aware of arrogance in ourselves and others, and we hate it. It might surprise some people to discover that in other cultures, that generalized value of humility was foreign (in fact, there were cultures that thought of humility almost as a vice!). Anyway, my point is just that at a subconscious level almost all of us tend to have have a culturally instilled fear of anger. We see it and one of the very, very first things we do is start telling the angry person (including ourselves) to calm down. We tell people to count to ten, to not react in anger, and so on. We quote the other half of Eph 4:26, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" and interpret that to mean that make sure you don't go to bed angry (especially in the context of marriage).
Rabbit trail: I don't think that's the right way to interpret Eph 4:26b. I think the correct interpretation is literally the opposite reading. To not let the sun go down on your anger doesn't mean stop being angry as soon as possible, before the end of the day; it means to never stop being angry. Always be angry! Different message, I know. Paul's point, I believe, is that we ought to be angry at sin. We should always have a righteous indignation at sin. Never let our anger at evil die. So yes, be angry. Paul isn't giving us permission to get mad. He is commanding it! And never stop being angry. Just don't sin yourself in your anger at sin!
Now, I grant the practical wisdom of trying to act calmly and rationally. But let me ask you all this. Do you treat any other emotion that way? When you feel a moment of deep, ineffable affection for your spouse, to you pause and count to ten and let that pass before you tell him or her? Or in that moment do you not kiss them or hug them or send them a text message or email? What better time to so affectionate than when you are in that moment carried away by it? That's beautiful! It would be a poor marriage if we only told our spouses we loved them when the moment had passed.
But that's a positive emotion, so it seems easy to let ourselves get carried away. But why should it be easier to imagine that? That's pretty telling, I think. You still have to make sure that your action, driven by that beautiful emotion, is appropriate to the moment. Don't show deep physical affection publicly (that's just immodesty), or if person isn't your spouse be sure to reign that in. There are all kinds of ways that acting in accordance with your emotion might be imprudent and even destructive in a particular context. So even here with this "positive" emotion (rabbit trail #2: I deny the distinction between positive and negative emotions) the "but do not sin" applies. Paul could just as well have said, "Love, but do not sin," "or be joyful, but do not sin" or "be fearful, but do not sin."
So all of this leads us to a third observation about anger, and it's one that we see with all emotions. All emotions are good, but all emotions can lead us to great good or great sin. Fear is good, but it can lead us to sin. It is good to act in accordance with and embrace fear. But if we aren't righteous in that fear, we can become faithless and foolish. Even joy can lead us to sin, particularly when we let it make us insensitive to the sorrow (and so need!) of others. It is a sad irony that nothing can make us as selfish as joy can. So be joyful, but do not sin.
Anger, then, is good. And it seems that acting in anger ought to be good. We simply have to be cautious to make sure we are acting in a good way (as if there's anything simple about that). And when I put it that way, it feels obvious and uncontroversial. John tells us that Jesus became angry and drove out the money changers from the Temple. But it's more than just Jesus. Many Christians are very uncomfortable with the imprecatory psalms, but they are God inspired Scripture. Take Psalm 17:14-15 as an example:
- Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down;
with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
By your hand save me from such people, Lord,
from those of this world whose reward is in this life.
May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies;
may their children gorge themselves on it,
and may there be leftovers for their little ones.
So what am I getting at with all of this?
Anger is good (first observation), but it can be very destructive and so we often fear it (second observation). Yet that fear is unjustified because all emotions are both good and yet can be destructive (third observation). In fact, it is really dangerous to direct the emotion of fear at any other emotion.
Rabbit trail #3: That's a whole other thread topic--On Fear--but suffice it to say here that the proper objects of fear are specific threats and never an emotion. Fear of anger is the most common problem in this regard, but some are afraid of love, others of sadness, others of courage, others of joy. Some are even afraid of fear. In the end, all this does is create a situation psychologists call repression, and it is very, very, very dangerous to a life well lived.
The bottom line, then, is that we ought to act out of anger. Anger, like all emotions, is like a horse. When well trained, it works with our desire for good and gives us immense power to do what God wills. God nowhere says that righteous behavior is emotionless behavior, as if acts are only good and righteous if they are done from a coldly logical perspective. In still other words, God doesn't ask us to operate on sheer willpower. No, I think he wants us to cultivate our emotions--anger included--so that rather than working without them or working against them, they work with us. We are to be angry (or joyful or sad or afraid or whatever) at the right things and act with wisdom in accordance with those emotions, not against them, so that our actions will have the most power.
All this, then, raises the practical question. If we are to be angry, if we are not to try to shut down our anger or the anger of others when we feel it arise, how are we to use it and honor it appropriately? Here I'll close my thoughts with a six tips off the top of my head that you, of course, may agree or disagree with:
1. Make sure the anger is justified. Anger is always rooted in a judgment, and we are to judge with righteous judgment. If the anger is unjustified, rather than tamping down or ignoring the anger, recognize your sin (because that is what it is) in falsely accusing the other. Confess if necessary and you'll find the anger will resolve itself;
2. If the offense that angers you is private, handle it privately. One of the dangerous things about anger is that it can easily escalate a situation when, in reality, anger used properly resolves situations.
3. Where the offense is public, it must be handled publicly. People disagree with this, but this is of the utmost importance. We are not islands but social creatures, and public offenses are offenses at us as well as to the community. To fail to resolve public issues publicly gives rise to the opportunity for gossip and makes it too easy for others to draw false conclusions. Human beings constantly engage in meaning making whether we know it or not--we ask, "What does that mean?" or "Why did that happen?" And if we aren't given an answer, we will create one. Don't let public offenses lead people into creating false narratives.
4. Make sure the anger and response are directed at the correct object. This is especially important and why fights in marriage tend to get out of hand quickly. Often something will make me angry because it is related to a deeper (usually unresolved) complaint. We think we're fighting over the dishes not being done, but in fact, we're really fighting because I lived in a filthy house growing up and always felt ashamed at that, and now I feel that you're putting me back in that shameful situation. So don't do that. Don't let anger be a pretext for a proxy-war. Part of using anger righteously is being honest about what you're angry about, and that goes back to the first tip.
5. Make sure the response to your anger is proportionate. This should be self-explanatory. Where the offense is minor, let the response be so. But where major, let the response be so. If you feel (and that's the important word--"feel") that your response to a minor offense is major, ask what that's about. It's probably that you're fighting a proxy war (per 4). On the other hand, if your response to a major offense is minor, ask what that is about! That could suggest not having a properly formed conscience. As an aside, the "response" language here applies to both the emotional reaction itself as well as how you choose to respond to the emotion (so both the feeling and what you do with it).
6. Distinguish between personal offenses and communal offenses. That is, there's a difference between someone personally insulting you and someone flouting the common good. It is right and good to encourage forgiveness of the former (but that doesn't mean you don't stick up for yourself in the process--by all means, forgive, but let the offender know his or her actions were hurtful so that you can protect yourself appropriately in the future). But I don't see anything scriptural or good about encouraging forgiveness of the latter. If someone insults me, that easy to forgive. But if I murder or steal or make racist remarks or other such things, then the community has a right and obligation to express their collective anger at me. Without that, human society cannot function. The great shame of losing shame in our culture is we give up permission for community outrage!
Applied to the G&S board, all of this (literally, all of it) is what is going through my head when I choose to respond openly and publicly in anger. And since I think I'm right--if I didn't, I wouldn't say this, now would I?--my hope is that all of us work within some understanding like this with respect to anger. If someone insults me personally, a true ad hominem, who cares? Not me. It's a minor offense. I can forgive and choose to respond or not going forward. But when someone (like Audacity in the particular case now, but others (including me!) could well be raised as examples from other times) insults the community as a whole or the central ideas that make us a community, there is nothing righteous or good or praiseworthy in offering that person a cool, dispassionate response. Such a reaction is, ironically, an injurious insult the each member of the community who does respect it! And as I said to Audacity in the other thread, when the subject matter being insulted is as important as God Himself, then we demonstrate not love, but biblical hatred, for the offender when we offer such a person a validating response. All of this, of course, presumes the first tip especially has been followed. Insults from ignorance are highly forgivable. We owe people forgiveness when their insults, though real, are unintentional. But when those insults are from a place of fundamental antagony, they must not be tolerated. We are to be anger, the Bible says, and respond in Christian indignation. That's good theology and it's good psychology.
I want all of us here to be more fully human, not less. I don't want us to be carried away by our emotions (that's being less human--being mere animals). But I don't want us to let fear of a particular emotion or emotions prevent us from doing what is right, either. I speak, of course, with reference to the G&S community, but I also speak to all of us as individuals and our own lives and to the other communities we are members of. Anger is good, and properly cultivated, is the greatest tool we have to root out sin and evil and to promote harmony, love, justice, and even peace.