Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anger and How God Can Turn It Into Love

As Jesus' behavior in tomorrow's Gospel lesson (John 2:13-22) will remind us, there are times when it's OK for us to get angry.

When God is being dishonored or an injustice is being perpetrated against the weak or defenseless, anger is very appropriate. Righteous indignation is no sin. In Ephesians 4:6, the book of the Bible which provides the verses on which today's Our Daily Bread post is based, we're told, "Be angry but do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26).

So, anger isn't a sin in itself. But when anger leads to grudge-holding, when we use it as an excuse for not forgiving others, we sin.

Our moments of anger present us with enormous spiritual dangers. We risk losing our relationship with God and so, losing our salvation.

Here's why: After teaching the disciples to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors," He goes on to tell them (and us): "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but it you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

The greatest danger associated with anger then, is that it can tempt us to see ourselves as gods, standing in judgment over others.

Jesus says that if we're intent on holding onto our anger, we'd better prepare ourselves for seeing God judge us by the same stringent standards we apply to others. Forgiveness and new life are available still as free gifts to all who repent and believe in Jesus. But if we add conditions to our willingness to love and forgive others--even our "enemies," those same standards will be adopted by God to us. In spite of His desire to forgive and embrace us, God will let us lie in the beds we ourselves make.

Jesus puts it this way: "For with the judgment you make you will be judged..." (Matthew 7:2).

But by God's grace, through Christ, we can be free of anger that destroys us, destroys our relationships, and drives wedges between God and us, between us and other people.

Anger should be like a thunderstorm. No matter how fierce a thunderstorm may be, it always passes on.

That's why after telling us, "Be angry, but do not sin," Ephesians goes on to say: "Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil" (Ephesians 4:26-27).

In other words, either get things resolved (Jesus gives a process for conflict resolution in Matthew 18:15-20) or, if you don't feel it's serious enough to warrant trying to resolve things with the other person, then forget about it, never give it another thought, let it go.

(It's instructive that the usual New Testament word for forgive is aphiemi, which literally means release. When we forgive others, we release them of the "debt" they owe us. We also release ourselves from the tension and pain that come to us when we hold onto our grudges.)

A few weeks ago, one of our Saint Matthew young people asked a practical question: "How can I love a creepy classmate?" Jesus tells us that we're to love others as we love ourselves.

How do you that with people who are creepy?

Or, for that matter, how do you love someone with whom you're angry?

How do you love the volatile and unloving who may readily spark your anger?

I'll tell you one way it can't be done. It can't be done if we, with gritted teeth, resolve to love others. Resolve to love the unlovable on the strength of your own goodwill and you'll break that resolution quicker than the ones you make on New Year's Eve each year!

But here's a technique I've mentioned before, one that works for me. "Lord," I pray, "I'm finding it hard to love so and so. You tell me that without Jesus, I can do nothing, and I'm really feeling my powerlessness in this situation. So, God, I'm asking you to push me out of the way. Love this person through me. Work Your love for them in me until, by Your grace, I learn to love them." God has never failed to answer that prayer. (It usually takes a long time.)

It's comforting to know that God honors the prayers of those who humbly admit their shortcomings and ask God to compensate for their weaknesses.

David speaks for me anyway when He prays to God in Psalm 51: "You desire truth in the inward being...You have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (vv. 6, 16-17).

Comforting to me also are the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians: "...I will boast...of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me...whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

God gives the strength to be faithful and to keep striving to be faithful, to those who honestly admit their human weakness and their need of the strength that comes from Christ, in every aspect of their lives.

In today's post from Our Daily Bread, writer Dave Branon reminds us of directives for Christlike behavior given in Ephesians 5 and other places in the New Testament. Place like Ephesians 5:8, that says, "Live as children of the light," meaning that the lives of people who believe in Jesus ought to reflect the presence of Jesus, the Light of the world, in all that they do.

Or Ephesians 4:29-32, where we're told to avoid "evil talk," to give grace to others, and put away things like bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling with others, slander and malice, and instead embrace a life in which we are "kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Or, Colossians 4:6, where Paul says: "Let your speech always be gracious."

If those directives and Jesus' command that we love others as we love ourselves intimidate you (and if they don't intimidate you, they should), don't throw in the towel or decide that being a Christian is just for spiritual superstars. The God Who loved you enough to go to the cross for you and then rose to open up eternity to those you when you (daily) repent and (daily) believe in Jesus, also loved you enough to (daily) give you the power to love others as you have been loved.

We begin to acquire that power when we confess our weak inability to love and ask Christ to fill us with His love.

And the power to love others as Christ commands grows in us as we keep offering that same prayer of weakness and need to God every day.

You may be barely conscious of the changes God brings into your life as, in Jesus' Name, you daily admit your weaknesses to God and seek His strength to love as You have been loved. You'll hardly feel how God turns your anger into love.

But God will notice...and His judgment is the only one that matters.

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