“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV
Anger tends to be a bit of a monster for me. Anger is my contender, my opposer – my nemesis. I battle anger more than most emotions. It’s a thorn in my flesh that although God has broken the stronghold in my life – it remains a fight.
I fully believe some are prone to anger. Whether it be by temperament, experiences growing up, nurtured as a child and teen…we all face it at times, but some are prone to it.
After much self discovery over the years, I have learned that I am quite prone to it. Anger was a constant enemy in my home growing up, and it takes regular work to pull out those roots.
In addition, I discovered my temperament lends itself towards anger. I am a melancholy with a brain that doesn’t stop thinking, a perfectionist that not only has high expectations for herself but fights to impose them on others, and someone who feels everything deep in my soul. That combination of things can create an anxiety that leads to fear and anger (which are typically related).
I have had years of counseling, I memorize scripture, pray often, I balance my schedule, I unplug and rest often, and the list can go on. I have learned wonderful coping skills and have a somewhat keen self awareness. Yet, I still struggle with anger.
What is someone like me (or you) supposed to do with a verse like in Ecclesiastes or other verses that regularly address anger.
Is there hope for someone like me (or you if you are similar)?
Well, in short answer, yes. However, it is not simple and neither is the answer to avoid or pretend that anger doesn’t exist. The answer is not found in quoting away your anger by repeating a scripture over and over. And, no, just mentally deciding “I think I can” doesn’t cut it. That theory will always eventually self destruct. That approach causes one to clench their teeth, dig in their heels, “force” positivity towards a person, thing, or situation. And, in the end, it will leave you more broken and finding your anger has taken root and is turning into resentment and bitterness.
His Word tells us that although our flesh may war against our spirit – sin no longer is master over us. That, although, I may never find perfected life of no anger – the hold it had could be released and that I could regularly overcome it’s power. I may stumble and fall – but it does not need to be my master and it would no longer be a pattern of behavior. His grace would be sufficient in giving me the strength I needed to overcome the weakness and grow in the fruits of patience, kindness, gentleness, and love.
Then, pray tell, what is the answer?
In looking closely at this verse, we can consider a few things:
The phrase “Be not quick to become angry” is quite important to reflect on. What this phrase does NOT say is “do not become angry”. The focus is on the phrase “be not quick”.
My counselor once said that when you feel angry it’s like the check engine light on your car telling you to look under the hood. You see, it’s never just the anger. There will always be feelings, events, experiences, expectations, and more that trigger that anger. I have found that the less work I am doing on my inner life, the less attention I give my soul – the quicker and more often I become angry. If I am taking effort to deal with all of the things under the hood that cause or trigger the anger, I am slower to anger. Then, God actually has the space in me to work and move and produce the fruit of self control and peace. In the end, it’s Christ in me that keeps those branches prunes, so that I bear fruit in a way that slows anger and lessens its impact. That leads to the second aspect of this verse.
“Anger is lodged in the heart of fools”. When I consider “lodged” it speaks of something that has gotten stuck. It has taken root, it becomes difficult to get out. It takes time, and extra tools. It potentially causes the breaking of the contraption that it got stuck in. Once anger has become “lodged”, it becomes quite difficult to remove. I think that might be why the proverb uses such a harsh word as fool. We are fools to allow our anger to take root, and then think we can just remove it on our own by a few simple prayers or quotations of scripture, add a little nice thinking, and we are all set. It just doesn’t work.
Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry, yet do not sin.” You will become angry, some will regularly fight anger. The pain of living in a broken world with imperfect people and events will call for and cause anger. No amount of avoiding will prevent the pain of anger. God is with us in our anger. He created us with these complexities and our anger does not overwhelm Him or chase away His grace.
The key is for us to not sin. When we allow it to take root, to become lodged-we will inevitably act on it causing sin. Our brokenness will surface, we will hurt ourselves and hurt others. We will say and do things we regret. We will lose our joy and peace.
However, the more we face our anger head on and we allow ourselves to stop and ask why the anger-the slower we will be to become angry and the less we will allow it to become lodged or rooted.
It’s painful to take that inside look and have God reveal our own brokenness when we would rather put the blame on our situation or the offense of others. Yet, in the end, our anger is our responsibility alone. We have the power, through Christ, to bear the fruit of self control, of peace, and love. However, it does not come without the cost of bearing and acknowledging our pain, disappointments, hurts, losses, failures, and more. Nevertheless, the reward will be great. We will find an otherworldly ability to bear grace, peace, mercy even.
It is in our power to love, to show love. We must let Christ do the inner work of revealing those anxious ways, those triggers, and those blind spots. When we make this a pattern of living, a preventative measure rather than reactionary, we will find we are slower to anger and less likely to allow our anger to lodge. And when we have discovered that the anger has become lodged, it will not take a full excavation of sorts to uproot it-it will be a smaller event of pulling weeds.
Our goal, then, should be not avoidance of the anger but positioning ourselves to deal with the anger, and then surrendering so that God is able to break the stronghold of anger. Thus, when we do experience and feel the pain of anger – we work to understand it and it’s source and then we find solace in the only One who can produce the peace we need to love instead of rage.
I have learned to have a healthy respect for the anger that I feel as it signals me when I have become distracted, despondent, ignorant of my pain. Just as the check engine light on a car is necessary to tell us there is a problem under the hood, God uses our anger to alert us to a need inside. Yes, be angry. Feel the pain of this imperfect world, then allow that anger to lead you to a deeper-inner work from Christ that leads to surrender and peace.
In the end, it’s less about the justification of our anger and more about the purification of our anger. It’s less about shame for our anger, and more about respect for the anger. It’s less about avoidance, and more about exploration of why anger. Anger dealt with appropriately will and should end in grace, peace, and surrender.