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Anger, Control and Desire

Its been apparent to me that I have an anger problem since I became a mother.  But, I should have been more clued in as a child who loved to slam doors for the exclamation mark it provided at the end of a “row” with my parents.  Two advances were made in my thinking about anger this week, no conclusions yet or sudden total purification in my heart on this issue, but worth processing here, now.

God is credited with anger periodically throughout the Bible (“the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” Ex. 4:14 and “anger of the Lord blazed hotly” Num. 11:10 as two of many examples) which indicates that anger in and of itself is not evil or sin.  A podcast/sermon of Tim Keller’s that I listened to this week actually highlighted God’s slow anger and pointed out that the goodness of anger is that it is actually a product of love.  He used the helpful rhyming comparisons of “slow anger” vs. “no anger” vs. “blow anger”, which we might think of as anger that blows up out of control.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Ex. 34:6-7

Tim Keller pointed out that anger seeks decimate anything which threatens that which is loved most.  The mama bear instinct is not wickedness but appropriate protection of the baby cub from any who would seek to do that bear harm.  So, Keller went on to say, disordered anger simply flows from disordered love.  It forced me to begin thinking about what makes me anger, and asking the question, “What am I defending with a willingness to decimate others, even those I love, to protect?”

Then my friend Meredith, who might be one of the best counselors in the world (no exaggeration), framed it a step further with the term “desires”.  Our desires are often God-given and very good in themselves.  I desire to have an orderly home, obedient children and to live in a community where my voice matters or to be a part of a church that works to bring about practical evidence of the restorative power of the person and work of Jesus in daily life.  These are good desires.  But ever so subtly, they slip into the process that Paul Tripp describes which ends in demand.  And it is when good things become “must haves” in my heart that anger is no longer a product of seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness but of seeking these thing for the peace, joy, contentment, satisfaction, strength, purpose, hope and so on that only ever will be found in Him alone.  Crystal, for example, allows for a beautiful table and makes drinking wine feel so much more festive and sparkly.  But hanging crystal around my neck, to draw from its energy and life, just took something desirable and turned it into an idol.  (For the record, I took one I was given in high school to dip in the ocean because this apparently purifies it.  Just so you never think I’m talking about “those crazies” who do such things, I’m almost always able to be counted among “their” number.)  When my desires become demands, my love has attached itself to the wrong thing and therefore my anger will be defending the wrong thing.

My issue, therefore, really isn’t primarily “control” (which is most often associated as the cause of anger) or even anger as a psychological problem in itself.  My problem is needing the wrong life source.  Isn’t this the recurring theme of everything I write?  Isn’t this the primary brokenness of my heart?  This is the destructive default mode initiated by the first Adam: to be my own god, to find life and wisdom and direction from the creation rather than the creator and to assume power from within that can only be received as a gift of grace from the Father through the Holy Spirit because of the person and work of Jesus.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:2-4

Does the answer then, or the application, lie in managing my anger, working to be less controlling, or mustering up greater love for the right One?  No, I don’t think so.  I think like so much of walking this journey of faith, it begins with saying, “Whoa, I’m a helpless adulterer like Israel before me, constantly running after new idols and fighting anyone who threatens them.  The power of sin over me and to blind me is worse than I realized.  And God’s power over sin is greater than I can imagine.  He does give sight to the blind.  I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!”

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