Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Anger as a Virtue: The Apostle Paul

Christians weighing in on Botkin Syndrome:
Excerpts from "Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves" by Drs. Stoop and Masteller.

From pages 226 - 228:

Paul also wrote some helpful things about anger. Much of the content of his letters in the New Testament has to do with wisdom for daily living. In a letter to the church at Ephesus, he is making the point that all Christians belong, in some sense, to one people. He then goes on to give practiced advice on how to live together as part of a united family, including: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger, do not sin’: Do not let the son go down while you are still angry...” (Ephesians 4:25-27).

Notice the line, “In your anger, do not sin.” That line can also be translated, “Be angry, and do not sin.” Paul seems to be saying –

that there is a difference between “anger” and “sin”;
that it is possible to be angry without sinning;
that there are times when it is actually right for us to be angry, so long as we do not sin in doing so;
some anger can be sinful.

The line, “In your anger, do not sin,” is actually a quotation from the Psalms: “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent” (Psalm 4:4).

The image of lying on our beds at night, quietly searching our hearts, helps to give meaning to Paul’s warning: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” On the one hand, we can take this literally. Paul warns that anger is a destructive force, both in terms of our own spiritual health and in terms of our relationships, and we should make dealing with it a priority. If possible, we should try to clear up whatever is standing between us and the person we are angry with...

That helps us grasp another, somewhat more figurative, understanding of Paul’s words. We can hear him saying, “Do not let your anger go into the darkness – into that place where you cannot see it, or feel it, or even acknowledge its existence.” We have already seen how harmful it can be to repress our feelings; anger can be one of the most harmful feelings to repress. It is like an acid that eats away at us from the inside.

Anger that is left unresolved, or that is buried in the darkness of denial, takes root and produces bitterness and resentment. The longer we postpone dealing with anger, the more bitterness and resentment it engenders, and the harder it becomes for us to get in touch with its existence and purge it from our hearts. Once we are aware that we are angry, we know immediately that we must at least begin the process of forgiveness, and keep our anger in the daylight where we can deal with it.

Excerpt from
Dr. David Stoop & Dr. James Masteller's
"Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves:
Healing Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families"
Regal/Gospel Light, 1996 (Servant, 1991)