Thursday, February 21, 2013

Anger and Trust

A common question in the Christian community is how to deal with anger and frustration during times of intense trials. Can you be angry at God? What role should faith and trust play in this theater of life? How can one find this faith and trust when all hell breaks loose and you cannot find any of either? These are typical questions and better, wiser people have tackled this issues in many, many ways. I am not here to break any new theological ground on this issue. I want, instead, to share my experiences and have you draw your own conclusions from there. Sounds good? Let's go!
The reality of sin is that death, destruction, and evil are present realities. Sickness happens. Broken friendships happen. Sadness and fear happen. Each person has different struggles and face unique trials, but the reaction of anger is common. The important place to begin, as usual, is in Scripture. What do we see God say about anger?

Some anger is good. Anger at sin and evil is God-ordained. We all know about Jesus clearing the temple (John 2:13-16). He comes in to worship, finds a marketplace used to legally rob the religious (and keep an unjust hierarchy), and He goes, as Jay-Z would say, H.A.M on the place. It is just one example in Scripture of God not allowing sin to flourish in order to protect His desperately loved people. As John Calvin writes in his commentary on John 2, "Whatever excuse men may plead, as soon as they depart, however slightly, from the command of God, they deserve reproof and need correction." Calvin shows us how God's wrath and anger ultimately showed the Jewish leaders that Jesus came as His Son, and to keep them from their bad ways of living. In the same way, we need to not sit idly by and allow sin to hurt and maim (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) those around us.

Righteous anger, however, is ordained by God, not man. Please take note of this before you defame the name of God and fellow Christians by getting angry at whatever you want. For one, we often blur the line of what is and isn't wrong. Our moral compass is corrupted by sin, so we need to make sure our anger is actually spiritually correct.

Also, He only ever targets the source of sin, not the soul of the person, something we cannot do easily. As James wrote, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow [emphasis added] to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20). We should have a 'holy discontent' (as Bill Hylbels would say) about sin. We need to be saddened and angry at Evil. But we also need to trust in God that His will is perfect and He is moving to make all things new, and not to take hasty action without His say so. This might mean having to wait on His timing, which can be excruciating, but it ultimately will keep us from hurting ourselves worse. 

Interestingly, the places in our lives that causes us to get upset can show us what we are worshiping. In the temple, Jesus became enraged when He saw that others were worshiping power, status, and money, not Himself and His power and love. Pastor Howard Brown of Christ Central Church refers to this as finding a correct "worship, or where the worth is." In other words, what do I give worth to that when it is changed/taken away it causes deep despair/anger. Or as Dr. Tim Keller says, "Anger is the result of love. It is energy for defense of something you love when it is threatened." The question then, as mentioned above, is if that 'thing' is God-oriented or if it is out of a selfish nature. When I am honest with myself, the answer is often very humbling.

To quote Francis A. Schaeffer, how then shall we live? What about the anger I felt towards God about the recent passing of several people I knew well? Or how I became resentful and frustrated that he allowed several friends to experience deep personal and relational issues? Firstly, my anger is ill-directed. God has never ordained evil, and I need to understand that just because He allows sin, He is actively working to redeem His creation through it. In Isaiah, after He promises that suffering will come upon Israel, God has this to say,
"But now thus says the Lordhe who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.' " Isaiah 43:1-2
This is not to say that God only uses trials for discipline, but whenever He has us go through a period of sorrow and frustration, we can cling to the promise that He is control. And we can direct our anger into channels of peace and safety in His arms.

Sound easier said than done? Totally. There is no easy way to see familial brokenness, people being taken advantage of, and random bad news happen to people close to you. We should work for justice. We should pray for peace and healing. We should even take divisive steps to stop blatant evil. But over it all, we need to pray for our faith to be grown, so that when we face issues, we can respond in obedience, both in action and in trust that God will redeem His beloved people and creation, in the present-time and in the future.  

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