“When Jesus saw her sobbing and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within him. He said, ‘Where did you put him?’ ‘Master, come and see,’ they said. Now Jesus wept.” John 11:33-35 (Message)
“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry.” Ephesians 4:26 (Message)
“Surely the wrath of man shall praise you.” Psalm 76:10 (ESV)
Jesus friend Lazarus died. And let me offer my own paraphrase of what followed: Before Jesus wept, he got really pissed off about this. Its right there in the text, terribly neutered in the NIV version, emasculated down to “deeply moved.” But John, who witnessed our red faced furious Savior, wanted us to know about it and so there it sits, whether we like an angry Jesus or not. And what, may you ask, angered him? Call me a master of the obvious, but I think it was the loss of his friend. Not much to miss in context there. The pain he felt in this absurd world made him really, really mad. And roused by the passion of his own rage, he was moved to tears. His anger moved him into his sorrow.
I can relate to Jesus. No I did not resurrect a friend from the dead. But back in college I had a similar experience of anger. The summer of my sophomore year, sitting at home on a lazy Saturday, I was restless for no good reason at all. Unable to shake it or name it, I headed out the door for a stroll in the woods, thinking as Norman Maclean once said that “…a lot of deep inner questions get no answer unless you go for a walk in the woods.”
Soon my wooded path dumped me into a clearing, a meadow warm with the light of afternoon sun. I felt summoned here. And at that, a deep anger welled up in me. From my guts, I let God have it, cuss words and all. There was no holding it back. I think this startled me more than it appalled me. But only a few F-bombs into the whole experience, with no time to restore my reverence, I lost it. I broke down weeping. What came out was a deep, deep longing for Jesus to hold me, to feel the arms of a man around me. I was weeping for a father’s embrace. Yep, I could name that desire clear as a bell.
I walked out of that forest not a little shaken but forever changed. I’d found a deep well of grief within myself. And I was helped by the most unlikely friend: my anger. That day began a long but fruitful process of grieving and healing the wound I carried from my dad. I have a wife, a better sense of my heart, and a much better relationship with my father all because of that day.
My counselor Lottie Hillard told me once, “A man must walk through the door of his rage to get to his heart.” I think she’s right. Anger is a very passionate emotion. It lets us know something matters deeply to us. Its there to move us. Its a kind of fuel, a psychic energy, a bodily get-up-and-go experience. And in this way, anger can be a very helpful thing, giving the ole‘ heart a jump start when we’re stuck or just plan resigned. It offers a constant invitation to enter our inner world more deeply and recognize what matters most to us. Any strongly held passion or conviction with require you to be angry. I believe this to be especially true for men, though certainly translates to women also.
If you’re skeptical at this point, good. You’ve got reason to doubt me. I’m encouraging people to get pissed off. And when do we ever see people using their hot temper to deepen their lives? Good anger seems about as oxymoronic as dry rain or honest politicians. We have so very few examples to follow of indignation used well. My goodness, I can barely qualify my cussing session with God as good.
We have bar fights. We have road rage. We have abusive fathers and husbands. People go postal in our world. That’s what we do with anger. We simply blow it off, release the pressure on a wall or a door or a passive aggressive jab at a spouse. We fly the flag of our fury. Why sit and feel it when we can vent it? And all of this is a waste of really good anger. It rarely leads to deeper questions about what really may be stirring within. So many people get stuck here with the car in park and the engine revved, stubbornly unmoved by their anger and maintaining a safe distance from the deeper waters of their hearts. If all you ever do is get angry with your anger, you expend your passion and gain nothing from it. You stay a pissed off shallow man.
I love Paul’s words translated in the Message, “Go ahead and be angry… Don’t stay angry.” In other words, keep moving when you’re feeling provoked. Anger is not a destination, just a place you pass through. We have to let it carry us along. In this sense, good anger takes work. Though incredibly rewarding, its not an easy process. How does experiencing your pain and the injustice of the world more acutely sound? Do you want to weep more? Are you ready to be more intimate with God? Are you willing to feel more passionate and vulnerable in relationships with people who may hurt you? Okay, then submit to your anger. Let it undo you. And make it a part of your prayer life. As Dan Allender has said, “Getting angry with God will save your sanity, help keep you from going crazy in this messed up world.”
I stood in line at one of those movie vending machines at McDonald’s a couple weeks ago. The line stacked about ten people back from the machine. Slowly we snaked forward, the man in front of me standing patiently at first. Although, his furrowed brow should have been a dead give away he wasn’t going to stay this way for long. A few sighs later and there was no denying he was about to blow. “People please! Pick out a %&$*# movie!” The crowd went silent. We all stepped away from him. His previously playful young daughter walked back to their car, hanging her head in utter embarrassment. The folks in front hurried alright. And he got his movie along with a gut full of shame.
What if, instead, he bit his tongue, drove home, and called a close friend to talk out what was irritating him? Or punched a punching bag for an hour, talking himself through the anger behind each punch? What might have transpired had he put on some angry music and journaled? Or gone for a walk in the woods to vent with God? Who knows what stood just beyond his impatience and how feeling it might have changed his life? Maybe he lost a friend that day. Or his job. Could be he’s waiting for a second child and his wife is infertile. He might be going through a dark season with God. Maybe he’s been longing his whole life for his father to really love him. I don’t have a freaking clue what deeper waters awaited him. I do know he had a chance to become a more deeply loving and alive man, if he had been willing to tune in to his heart. But he wasted that chance and that passion.
So what’s got you angry these days? What’s hacked you off? Where do you have a burr in the saddle? Wherever your anger is, there your heart will be also.