“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” -James 1:19-20
So, it looks like I’m going to be preaching to myself about this anger thing for a while. Hormones and a toddler will probably give me plenty of opportunity to practice. I’ve never been someone who struggles a ton with anger, but lately it’s just been bubbling up. I looked up anger in a little book called “God’s Promises and Answers for Your Life” tonight, which the inside cover tells me was given to me by a friend named Erica many years ago. The James verse was actually one of the first verses I tried to memorize back in high school, so the words came back to me, though in a slightly different translation of the Bible.
“For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
There is a distinction suggested by this verse between our anger and God’s anger, and it implies that our kind of anger is often not justified, or at least not righteous. It is righteous anger, right anger, to feel angry about the things God feels angry about, things like abuse or other forms of true injustice. But how often are those the things rousing our passionate anger? Aren’t we usually just angry about the perceived “injustices” done to us when someone cuts us off in traffic or our spouse forgets to pick up milk at the store? Sometimes it might cut a bit deeper than that, but it’s usually focused on ourselves. At least it is for me. But isn’t this Jesus I follow the one who talked about turning the other cheek, talked over and over again about caring more about others than myself?
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” -Matthew 5:38-41
It’s so hard to get out of the mindset of looking out for ourselves, our rights, our comfort. But when we decide to follow Jesus, it’s one of the primary ways he wants to transform our thinking.
I’m still in the middle of studying the life of Jacob, and yesterday I read about Jacob’s reaction to being treated unfairly by his father-in-law.
“I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes. It was like this for the twenty years I was in your household. I worked for you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages ten times. If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.” -Genesis 31:38-42
Surely Jacob felt some anger about the unfair treatment he experienced for twenty years, and he was honest about the situation when his father-in-law chased him down and confronted him. Yet there doesn’t seem to be bitterness in Jacob’s voice as he talks about it. His focus is that despite the unfair circumstances, God took care of him. That, I think, is where the secret to overcoming anger and resentment lies. We are going to face hard things, big and small, all the time. But what makes the difference for us, or what’s supposed to make a difference, is that we know God is always taking care of us, regardless of what we face. I don’t mean that in a trite way, either. When you trust God, he provides for your needs in very tangible ways. Every time. If you trust him to. It might be day by day, like manna in the desert, it might sometimes be just enough to get by, but it will be there, and it will be enough. And sometimes he’ll pour out his blessings quite abundantly, in unexpected, God-ways, ways that can only be described as “luck” by people who don’t believe.
So what does that mean for me? I suppose it means that every time I am angered by what I perceive to be others’ unfair treatment of me or by just not getting what I want, I need to remember that ultimately those “injustices” don’t matter because I will have all my needs met by the God who sees, cares, provides.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:19
It’s also important to remember God’s sovereign role in allowing those challenging circumstances to come my way. If I believe that God loves me and that he is good, it forces me to acknowledge that he intends to use those difficult circumstances for a higher good in my life than easier circumstances could accomplish, as the book of James also describes just a few verses earlier.
Consider it pure joy [pure joy??], my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” -James 1:2-4
I hope that my speech and life will increasingly reflect a peace in knowing that God is the source of all I need, and that eventually I’ll be “mature and complete, not lacking anything”.