Eric Youngblood: Inventorying Our Stockpile Of Anger

Tuesday, April 4, 2017 - by Eric Youngblood

Men do mad better than sad.

That counselor’s maxim may have graced your ears before.

It attempts to recognize two key features of our emotional lives, and not only merely for men. 

First, anger is simply easier than sadness---at least in a sizable set of situations. 

Anger is Fun!
And way more enjoyable. Frederick Beuchner has noted, “of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun.To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.

The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” 

This perverse joy, even if it eventually devours us, has to describe the widespread outrage industry propped up by cable news, Facebook, and bombastic talk radio. 

But anger is not only oddly pleasurable. It is also energizing. Sadness immobilizes. Anger moves. Despair is aimless meandering with ankle-weighted legs through a foggy swamp of molasses in the dark. Anger, with its power to drown out distraction from our insides, can produce a laser-focused precision, a marksman’s-concentration, and an adrenaline-fueled productivity.

A hero of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, savored and stewarded his anger for just such reasons:

“I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding is sharpened and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”

“...The Juice that Love Bleeds When You Cut It”
The maxim about being more proficient anger production plants than tear manufacturers isn’t only about ease and value though. It also astutely and implicitly reminds that sometimes behind the red face and swollen carotid arteries screaming at the referee or the television or the kid who spilled her milk on your laptop, is an injured heart. 

CS Lewis once wisely noticed that “anger is the juice that love bleeds when you cut it.” 

When we are mad, it is because we love. Our love is bleeding. 

Of course, the wounded love we are experiencing might be an inflated self-love that is deeply committed to being unbothered. So a barking dog disturbing your sleep might get a gruff reprimand, or a swift swat. Lots of domestic nastiness and workplace orneriness is owing to lacerations in our love which habitually preferences our own selves.

Our wounded love could, however, be for the esteem, the injuries, or the protection of another, which is why anger isn’t all bad by any means. 

Could Undetected Grief Be Causing Your Growling?
But if is true that fractured hearts often reside behind smoldering masks of anger, it is worth wondering if some of our angriest reactions might be inviting us to pause, even prayerfully, if we are those who do that sort of thing, to wonder what we might be sad about. Could sorrow be cowering in a dark corner of our inner lives that we rarely visit? Is some undetected grief causing our growling?

I bring it up, because I notice how easy it is during political cycles, community decisions, and legislative conundrums dealing with social novelties and complications, just how angry, touchy...and downright nasty we get. It’s as easy as breathing. But not as useful. Not in the long-term, any way.

So thanks to a recent nudge from John Newton, I’ve been trying to remind myself of something foundational to Christian understanding. 

Christians believe that if we perceive anything at all rightly about how we are to live, feel, or act, it is NOT due to our successful performance of cataract removal surgery on ourselves. God grants us perception, understanding, and wisdom. We believe in knowledge as a gift. In understanding as a grace.

We further contend that if we have embraced Christ as the embodiment of the God of Israel, who is now Redeemer and King of the world, offering new life in the world to come (which begins now!), restoration of all the vandalized places in our lives and environs, forgiveness of all our infractions and cleansing of all our guilt, to any who will receive it, such realization is not because we have superior upbringings or remarkable IQs. 

If we want God, it is because he wanted us first. If we care about his ways being adopted, even if they are at cross purposes with our strong internal desires, it is because we have been acted on by him. If we can hear the words of God, or have space to let them in our ear canals for a lively consideration, it is because he has blown out the spiritual wax from our ears.

Wanting to Want What God Wants
We are those who know what it is to be well-nigh mastered by our own desires, but have eventually confessed, “what am I to myself but a guide to my own destruction.” We believe in Reality outside ourselves. And have received and re-forming aspirations that lead us to actually want to want what God wants.

Believing and rehearsing these truths should have massive implications for how we respond to a social world that is increasingly hostile to a Christian understanding of well, about everything. One particular such implication is that it should make us incurably gentle and astonishingly patient with people who don’t see as we do. 

Why?

Because we believe the benevolent action of God has given us the convictions we have, those which we even think are correct, since we have become persuaded that the Scriptures are our rule of faith and life. 

But what does that mean for the myriad scores of people who scorn this book, its way of life, and the descriptions it gives for what people are, marriage is, how sexuality or economics or even community life is to be practiced?

Shouldn’t we be merciful? Should we show contempt for those who’ve not received what we have yet? 

Our Savior and an AR-15?
Our Savior looked over a city with an extended middle finger hung high in the air toward him, and didn’t shoot that finger off with an eagle-eyed stare down the scope of an AR-15 from a covert spot in the Judean hillside.

Instead, his heart broke. He wept over those who’d refused his welcome. Grief tear-stained his cheeks over those who were proud of themselves for flouting his authority and averting his rescue. But for him, this was no cause for attack. It was a matter for lament. 

Richard Nixon once wisely and cynically opined, “People react to fear not love. They don’t tell you that in Sunday School, but it is true.” 

His statement is true enough. But has some severe limits. To be sure, everyone reacts to fear...but few respond to it in the long term in any sort of nourishing way. This is why dictators and politicians use it so often, but mother’s so rarely. 

Our anger is frequently the hammer we use to wallop fear when it pops up unpleasantly. But sadness at the confusion, dismay, or disaster of another, can stare fear down and send it running with just a healing glance of merciful love.

Our God, from whom all enlivening motherhood and sturdy fatherhood, derives its substance and tone, reminds us that “love drives out fear.”

Learning from Ancient Assyrians
That ancient, whale-saliva-saturated prophet Jonah was once in an adolescent huff with God, after an unlikely mercy shower rained down on a violent, belligerent, wealthy, and rotten-hearted folks...an advanced nation, an Ancient Near Eastern super-power, the capital city of Nineveh, with terrifying military and technological might. Jonah sulked, ironically enough, under the shielding shade God had caused to cover him in his prophetic post-game tantrum. “I knew you were going to be merciful to those stupid, godless, flouting fat-heads!”

And God, telegraphing yet again, that he takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and that underneath his promised anger was some tenderhearted sadness of his own, essentially suggests that Nineveh “is an enormous and important city filled with folks who do not know their right hand from their left. Don’t I have a right to show them concern?”

“Am I not allowed to have compassion on them?” 

Stranded at a Malodorous Arm-Wrestling Match
In our times, the loudest voices are the most merciless ones. 

The tolerance talkers are intolerant of any who don’t adopt their doctrine. 
Conservatives seem to have given up on artful persuasion and are resorting to strong-arm tactics. Liberals seem to be using the same playbook...they just enjoy a bit more power and influence at the moment. In the democracy sponsored arm-wrestling match of America, they’ve got more cultural power in their biceps at the moment. But we’re ALL stuck in a malodorous arm-wrestling match. And regardless of who wins, we all seem poised to lose.

There is a great deal of bullying on all sides. And we’re sitting on a tremendous inventory of anger. The earth is being scorched with the heat of this bullying anger. And there is a drought of mercy. A shortage of sadness driven, compassion-seeking mercy. 

Shouldn’t we, who hang our hats, not on our ability to get it all right, but on our admission of being all wrong before the Merciful God, aspire to remedy that drought? 

Perhaps we should pray for rain, a shower of mercies that introduces us all more convincingly to what’s bereft in ourselves and then sends us sprinting to the warmth of the Savior’s welcome shelter? 

It’d be awfully sad, if we were too mad to remember some of the best lines that’ve ever been scripted for us to use on ourselves and to share with the world, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

-----

Eric Youngblood is the senior pastor at Rock Creek Fellowship (PCA) on Lookout Mountain. Please feel free to contact him at eric@rockcreekfellowship.org or follow him on Twitter @GEricYoungblood.


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