One of the most uncomfortable things about our internal life as Christians is anger. We often confess it because we feel it often and it makes us very uncomfortable. It feels like we are out of control and, if unchecked, it could very often lead to violence. It is a sin often confessed as a lack of patience. It makes us feel that we are losing control of ourselves. It is the earliest negative emotion we feel as children when we encounter the anger of our parents at something we did, often unconsciously. “Stop that!”
But Jesus got angry, not only when He forced the money changers out of the Temple, but often with His disciples who many times did not get what He was trying to teach.
So we see that there is a good anger and a bad anger. Anger is not a sin necessarily. Anger is an energy of the human being that, when well directed and when it serves a divine purpose, can be a good. This is hard to see if we are uncomfortable with this energy. One of the reasons we are uncomfortable with it is that we often confuse it with violence which is only the result of a poor use of it.
I have been doing a great deal of study in Orthodox Spiritual Theology. One of the important points in this outlook is how the Fall of Man and Woman in Genesis warped the powers of the human soul, and that spirituality is an attempt to redirect these energies back to the original reason for their creation. So the energy of desire that was meant to serve our relationship in love to God became the desires that run rampant and develop into unruly appetites and even addictions. This must be corrected by the virtue of temperance. The energy of reason and intelligence was meant to help us discern how to act and to consider what is best for our relationship to God and others. It devolved into the use of reason to justify the sins we commit and to create a wall to seeing the appeal of goodness. It must be corrected by the virtue of prudence.
But then God gave the Human Person the energy of anger to defend oneself and to build the necessary strength to fight against evil, to war against the demons, and to provide the determination and backbone to accomplish the will of God even when faced with discouragement and the temptation to give up. The proper use of anger is the virtue of courage. When it is deformed it descends into the abyss of violence and self-hatred.
So one can see that this ‘uncomfortable virtue or power’ that we call ‘anger’ has a good use and, when properly used, is of great benefit. It is essential, however, that this power be directed by the other powers of temperance (knowing the limits and the proportions of things) and prudence (the rational use within those boundaries). Then and only then does the full power of the gift become apparent.
When, for instance, Jesus defended the sinful woman who washed His feet with her tears, was this not a beautiful example of the right use of anger? “Leave her alone!” This act of defense was energized by the virtue of just anger.
I think that our uncomfortableness with this virtue arises from the many misuses of it and by the fact that it makes us feel like we are losing control of ourselves. It is a little like a fire within us: dangerous, yes, but who can live without fire?
It is of the essence of the diabolical that it warps what is best in us. They cause the energies that God has given to us to work against ourselves and others. Temperance gives way to addictions, Prudence to heedlessness, Anger to violence.
A great deal of the spiritual life for a Christian is to fight against evil, first in oneself and then in the world around us. But if we distrust or misuse that energy, we end up in violence and self-hatred. We still must carry on the warfare and we need the irascible gift to be able to have the strength to not allow evil to have its way.
This is the lesson that is found throughout the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy by Tolkien. If we do not fight against evil, it will take over. To not use the energy of anger in the proper way, it is to hand over to the demons control over our lives and thereby a great victory.
We must be brave and strong, cooperating with the grace of God so that we can become the heroes we are called upon to be.
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