Anger: When You’re Boiling Over

Anger: When You’re Boiling Over

Psalm 79


If you were allowed to take any one item, any one thing, into a room and smash it to pieces with a baseball bat, what would you take? Or, and don’t answer this one out loud, if you could hang someone’s picture over a dart board and throw darts at it, whose picture would you choose? No one wants to admit it, but every one of us had someone’s face in mind, didn’t we?


Well, there is an amusement facility in Canada that has created a “Rage Room.” In that room, guests can relieve stress by smashing things. Thundrdome Amusements in Calgary provides golf clubs, sledgehammers, pipes, and baseball bats to guests so they can release their frustrations by breaking office equipment and other items. “You go in and get to smash stuff,” says Thundrdome’s director. “We provide full-blown protective gear. You wear a face mask, chest protector, coveralls, gloves, and you must have closed-toe shoes.” In addition to providing stress relief and anger management, spending time in the Rage Room can also help promote a healthy lifestyle, he said. “You’re in the room for 45 minutes, smashing all these items. You come out of the room, and you’ll be sweating. And you’ll feel better.” Guests are also welcome to bring their own items. “A lot of people with desk jobs are excited to smash printers.” Rage Room packages at Thundrdome begin at about $20 per person.[i]


People everywhere tend to view anger as a negative, but the truth is, anger is a natural, God-given emotion and we all experience it, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be harmful, or it can be constructive. But because we all experience anger, we have to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. Many of the Psalms deal with anger in some way. So turn in your Bibles this morning to Psalm 79. (Will not read entire Psalm here)


Psalm 79 is a Psalm “of Asaph.” Asaph himself didn’t write this Psalm, because the Old Testament book of Ezra tells us that he is the ancestor of the temple singers, and Chronicles that he was a chief musician at Solomon’s time. And this Psalm is about the fall and destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C., roughly four centuries later. But we know that one of Asaph’s descendants was named a chief musician when the Jewish refugees and exiles were permitted to return to their homeland, and that a guild of singers in the line of Asaph bore his name. And there’s one thing this psalmist is sure of: the Jews deserved their exile because they had turned their backs on God, but they had also been deeply wronged by the people around them.


Look at Vv. 1-7. That’s the source of anger – a sense that I’ve been wronged. The magnificent temple built by Solomon, representing the presence of God among his people Israel, was destroyed. Jerusalem, the holy city, was a ruin. The people of God, his own possession, no longer inhabited the land God had promised to them. The corpses of the slain lay unburied amongst the ruins. And while the mighty Babylonians did all of the heavy lifting and took care of the conquest of Judah, the neighboring countries looked on and laughed, mocking Israel and her God. You see, in the ancient world, strong country meant strong God. Weak country, defeated people, meant weak God. Look at the question in V. 10.


How do we know that the Psalmist is angry? Because he just assumes that God is angry too. Look back at Vv. 5-6. Yes, we deserved your anger, your righteous wrath. But you MUST be angry with them too, so pour out YOUR anger on THEM.


Most of us think of anger as AN emotion, but it isn’t. Anger is actually a cluster of feelings that involve our body, our mind, and our will. And anger, as a cluster of feelings, is actually a secondary emotion. We get angry BECAUSE OF something else, usually hurt or fear. We get angry because we think, sometimes rightfully and sometimes not, that we have been wronged in some way. We feel hurt, or disappointed, or rejected, or embarrassed, and we get angry. And it’s hardwired into our bodies. We actually experience physiological changes when we get angry. God created us to get angry sometimes. The key is to learn how to manage it and express it in a healthy way.


And that means that I have to admit that I’m angry. Look at Vv. 11-12. He doesn’t hold anything back, does he? He’s hurting over the condition of his people, and because he’s hurting, he’s angry. And he acknowledges that to God. You see, anger isn’t always negative. It’s like a warning signal that something somewhere is potentially wrong. Some people confuse anger with hatred, because hatred always includes elements of fear and anger. But healthy anger drives us to do something to change what makes us angry; anger can energize us to make things better. Hate does not want to change things for the better; it wants to make things worse.[ii] If I admit that I’m angry, I can seek for ways to express my anger in healthy ways and try to do something about the situation that’s making me angry.


But I have to be careful, because I might be misreading the situation. You see, I don’t have to be legitimately wronged in some way in order to get angry. I only have to THINK I’ve been wronged to get angry. So there’s legitimate anger, and there’s illegitimate anger. Anger is legitimate when some kind of moral wrong has been done to me or to someone I love. Illegitimate anger is when I just think a wrong has been done, but in reality there is no moral wrong. So imagine that you walk into the living room and you see your seven year old child take a toy away from your five year old child. What do you assume? That the older child is being a bully and selfish, right? And the younger one, your baby, is crying, and that makes you more angry. But look a little more closely at the situation. The toy the older child took away is actually a model airplane he’s been working on for days on end. And the younger child knows that he isn’t supposed to touch it. But he walked by and saw it sitting there and decided to give it a test flight. Changes the story a little bit, doesn’t it?


Most of us who are parents know that when we walk in on an argument between children that we aren’t getting the whole story, and may never unravel the mess. So, if you’re like me, you say “I want you each to go to a different room in the house and not come within 30 feet of each other, or look at each other, or talk to me, for the next two hours.” And then I turn on the TV.


But I have to be careful, because my expression of anger might be unhealthy and destructive. It’s been said “Speak when you’re angry–and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”[iii] Many who follow Jesus think that anger itself is wrong, that we aren’t supposed to ever get angry. But that isn’t the case. Jesus himself got angry. He even tipped over some tables in anger once. St. Paul, in Ephesians 4:26, says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” You can be angry and not sin. I can be angry and not sin. But lets be honest with ourselves. It’s a rare occurrence among us. It’s rare because we’re experts at convincing ourselves that our illegitimate anger is legitimate. We are experts at convincing ourselves that our own motives are true and pure and everyone else’s are false. My own anger is justified, but no one else’s is. That’s why its healthy to check my perception of things with someone else, preferably someone who saw what I saw or experienced the same thing, so see if my perception is off. It’s also healthy to check in with the person who did the wrong, to get the other side of the story.


Now, look at V. 13. The Psalmist expressed his anger, processed his anger, but he didn’t let it take control. He knows that he and the rest of his people are still children of God, that they are “the sheep of his pasture.” He feels anger, experiences anger, expresses his anger, but isn’t consumed by his anger. His anger isn’t shoving God out. He knows who God is, and he knows who he is.


There’s a difference between expressing anger and letting anger take control. Because when anger takes control, it takes control of everything. Norm Evans, all-pro tackle for the Miami Dolphins for several years, once confided, “It’s really dangerous for a pro football player to get angry. In fact, that’s when linemen sustain their most serious injuries.” He explained, “Anger is so harmful in football that if I can get an opposing lineman or end angry at me, he will concentrate on beating me and forget to attack the quarterback—and that’s my job, protecting the quarterback.” Mike Fuller who played safety for the San Diego Chargers in the late 1970s, agreed. “The wide receivers are continually trying to make us angry each time they come into our area, because they know if they can upset us emotionally, they can fool us on the next play.” Bob Hutchins, former judo champion for Southern California and now a missionary in Mexico, stated, “I was just an above-average judo performer until I learned how to make my opponent angry. Then I won the championship.” When I let anger take control, I make poor decisions, I wounds those I love with my tongue, I overreact, I discipline my children too severely, and I do things that calmness of thought wouldn’t permit.[iv] When anger takes control, I can no longer think.


I can admit that I am angry, and express my legitimate anger in healthy ways, without letting anger take control. Unfortunately, most of us express our anger in one of these two unhealthy ways. One is to stuff your anger. It can be denying to yourself and anyone else that you’re feeling angry, or stewing on the inside but never expressing your anger externally at all. The problem with stuffing it is that you can only stuff so much before your mind, emotions, and body are so full that they just explode. So you stuff and stuff and stuff and never let it out, and then someone dribbles some milk on the kitchen floor and you explode, and might even be asking yourself, “Where is this coming from?” The person you’re exploding on is certainly asking that question.


The other is to explode all the time. This is the person who let’s anger take control easily. We often say they “have a short fuse.” But being the kind of person who just has a short fuse isn’t an excuse to just explode all over everyone. You explode and feel better and move on as if nothing had happened. But the people you explode all over can’t and don’t. They’re wounded. Saying, “Well, God made me with a short fuse I guess. It is what it is” is emotionally and spiritually lazy. We all experience anger. And none of us is able to completely limit our anger to legitimate causes. That’s why it’s so important to grow in our ability in Christ to process our anger, asking ourselves, “Is this really legitimate or not?” and seeking other perspectives if necessary. And it’s important to grow in our ability to express our anger in healthy ways, ways that create change in ourselves and that pave the way for change in those who cause anger to flare in our hearts. It can be as simple as waiting until you are calm, and then saying something like, “I need your help to figure something out. I’m really having a hard time with this, and I’m wondering if I’m misunderstanding your intention. Can you help me?”


You see, at its core, anger is an expressed desire for justice for legitimate wrongdoing. And Jesus Christ took every wrong that I do that angers others on himself. And he took every sin … that means every legitimate insult and wrong that impacts  … upon himself. And because of that, I can learn to forgive and, where possible, seek reconciliation with those with whom I am angry, for I am simply recognizing and admitting that Christ’s death for my sin is also the death of my neighbor’s sin.


The son of a sharecropper, John M. Perkins was born into Mississippi poverty. When he was 17 years old, he fled to California after his older brother was murdered by a town marshal. Although he vowed never to return, after he accepted Christ in 1957, he returned to his boyhood home in 1960 to share the gospel of Christ with those still living in the region. His outspoken support and leadership role in civil rights demonstrations resulted in repeated harassment, imprisonment, and beatings. You see, John M. Perkins is black.


He and his wife, Vera Mae, founded the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation, of Jackson, Mississippi. In 2016, their daughters Elizabeth Perkins and Priscilla Perkins were appointed co-presidents of the foundation. Dr. Perkins is now the foundation’s president emeritus. He is now Dr. Perkins, and has served on college and university boards and served as a distinguished visiting professor, although he dropped out of school in the 3rd grade. His is one of the leading evangelical voices to come out of the American civil rights movement, Dr. Perkins is also an internationally known author, speaker, and teacher on issues of racial reconciliation and Christian community development.


In his latest book, Dream With Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, he describes his own struggle with hate. “In New Hebron, Mississippi, I grew up around poor whites who felt they were better than blacks and expected us to move out of their way when they were walking down the street …. They were oppressors, and common knowledge through the years was that in rural areas, poor whites sought to become sheriffs, cops, or guards in order to have some power over society. So we did not have a great relationship with them …. To be honest, I had never given a second thought to poor whites. I still regarded them negatively—as redneck, trailer-park trash.


But over the years Christ has slowly transformed John Perkins’ view of poor white people. He tells a story about watching white people come to a church site that distributed food for the poor. “Sometimes when I visited the church, I would just hang back and watch the people come and go as they picked up food items. I always found the behavior of the white people quite curious. Their body language showed so much shame. One would almost think they were stealing the food. I noted also that these white folks really didn’t have a voice or anyone in power to stand up for them—that they too were victims exploited politically by those in power. Many times the man of the family would not even go inside to get the food; rather, he would sit outside in the truck and send in his wife. I’ve gone from almost hating them (when I was young and angry and they were bigoted and violent) to genuinely loving them as brothers and sisters. I think about how many poor whites respond to me so positively when I speak today. Often I can see a spark in their eyes. I’m truly sorry that I’ve neglected the needs of these neighbors of mine and have not responded often enough to the spark. Perkins concluded by confessing, “There’s one thing I know I would change if I had the chance to do it all over again: I would do more to help poor whites.”[v]


We all get angry, because we all experience hurt and embarrassment and pain. Anger is hardwired into our bodies and into our brains. But if we aren’t careful, anger can wound, even destroy others. That’s why we have to be willing to admit to ourselves, to God, and perhaps to others that we are hurt and angry, process our anger to try to get the right perspective on the situation, express our anger in healthy ways if it is legitimate, and never, ever, let anger take control. Let us pray.


[i] “The News You Missed,” The New Oxford Review (November 2017)

[ii] Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget (Pocket Books, 1986); submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California

[iii] Laurence J. Peter, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 1.

[iv] Adapted from Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips, Anger Is a Choice (Zondervan, 2002), pp. 19-20

[v] John Perkins, “John Perkins: I Wish I Had Done More to Help Poor White People,” Christianity Today (3-21-17)