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Responding to Our Natural Alert Systems: Anger

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Last week, we began discussing our natural alert systems, starting with fear and guilt. Fear warns us of danger, problems, or troubles and, when we respond to it appropriately, we can experience a tremendous benefit. Guilt tells us when we’ve done something wrong and can point us toward accepting responsibility and righting our wrongs.

Today, we’ll keep the conversation going by talking about anger. This, like fear and pain, has been vilified by many people and for good reason. Anger can be expressed as violence and can lead to people getting hurt. Misplaced anger is like a forest fire consuming everything in its path. But what if the proper use of anger actually led to something good and life-giving?

Anger is a sign, alerting you that something is wrong. We should be angry about things like injustice, betrayal, and ourselves and others being hurt.

Anger crosses from healthy to unhealthy when it’s our prevailing emotion.

When we’re angry all the time or the littlest thing sets us off, that’s not okay. When one small event in the morning leads to us taking it out on others for the rest of the day, we are in the wrong. When anger leads to violence or any kind of abuse, that is simply not okay.

But even those improper forms of anger reveal to us that something is hurting in our mind or our emotions that we haven’t dealt with. Misplaced anger or uncontrollable outbursts of rage point to something that hasn’t been healed. But nothing is impossible with God. He can heal our hearts, our minds, and our identities so that we can use anger properly.

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” Ephesians 4:26 (ESV)

Paul keeps it real in this verse. He knew that anger is an emotion given to us by God that we are entrusted to steward well. He was, by no means, advocating for people to be robots or put on a false self, instead he encouraged readers to use anger healthily.

So we can get angry but we are warned against sinning as a result of our anger. And sin is more than just the things in the 10 commandments, it’s anything that falls short of God’s perfect standard. It’s anything that doesn’t look like God. If we lash out in our anger and hurt someone, that’s sin. If we punch a hole in the wall and harm ourselves and scare those around us, that’s sin. If we isolate and mask our anger, shoving it deep down inside of us, that’s emotional detachment, and that’s sin too.

Instead of making anger our default setting, we should take the time to respond to the alert appropriately.

If someone has made us angry, we should pause and reflect and, if warranted, have a conversation with the person.
If a situation has made us angry, we should pause and reflect and, to the best of our abilities, try to remedy the problem.
If God has made us angry, we should pause and reflect and, start a dialogue with him about it and another trusted godly friend.

For years I lived in a state of anger. I was angry with everything and everyone, including myself and God. I would be “fine” having put on a facade of niceness until I would erupt in a rage and then go back to being “fine” again. I thought that’s how you were supposed to live and I thought that was okay. Then I became emotionally detached and apathetic so nothing made me angry. I thought that was the appropriate solution to my anger problem. But, over the years, God has been showing me that there’s a better way.

I am by no means perfect and I still deal with anger in unhealthy ways, but I’m growing in this area. I’m learning to notice when this natural alert system is going off and respond accordingly to it. Sometimes a situation is reminding me of a painful moment from my past and that’s why I’m angry. Or sometimes I don’t get what I want and my selfishness wants to rage. Other times I see injustice happening and I feel an anger rise up inside of me. But all of these scenarios point to important information that can help me grow if I let it.

Anger can be a good thing and we would be wise to heed its warnings when it goes off.

What do you think about anger?

How do you live out Ephesians 4:26?

To go Deeper: Read Healing the Shame that Binds You, The Emotionally Healthy Church


Disclosure: some links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

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