Anger was one topic Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount and the interesting thing is, He associated it with murder.
Before He made His famous remarks, a long history of anger-fueled violence had riddled the pages of holy writ going all the way back to the first family. It occurred often even in those early years and frequently resulted in the death of another person. It wasn’t peculiar to the so-called bad guys either. Some of the people who committed murder surprise us.
- Cain, the first-born child to the first family murdered his first sibling, Abel, and it was motivated by anger.
- Esau was so angry he wanted to kill his brother, Jacob. Fortunately the parents intervened and sent Jacob away. The resentment, however, never left. There was constant tension between the descendants of these two brothers which occasionally escalated to war.
- Jacob’s sons, motivated by resentment, planned to kill their brother, Joseph but instead sold him as a slave.
- Two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, in a state of rage, murdered all the men in an entire town because the son of the chief had raped their sister and they did this even though the perpetrator wanted to make things right.
- Moses angrily defended his people by killing an Egyptian guard. The guard was abusing Israelite slaves and killing him was Moses’ idea of deliverance.
- Later, Moses again became so enraged that he disobeyed a direct order from God, suffering the consequences personally this time.
There isn’t enough data to suggest anger has gotten worse (in fact Steven Pinker presents data to show we are less violent now than before) but there is plenty to suggest that anger and murder are still a problem. In 2008 there was an estimated 1,382,012 incidences of violent crime recorded by the FBI and almost 17,000 of those ended in murder. Many of those crimes were motivated by some form of anger even the ones that didn’t result in death.
At the start of history, anger was a problem and murder was an outcome. Obviously, not much has changed in thousands of years since.
When Jesus spoke to this issue He was not saying anything new and He was not making a generalized statement on anger. He wasn’t discussing the different types of rage (road, office, shopping, internet, etc.). He focused mostly on the way anger escalates, particularly between people who are close and gave us enough context to make some interesting observations.
According to Jesus murder begins as everyday, usual, common place, low grade anger which if not resolved is expressed as:
- Insults, mild to serious. Nick naming, making suggestively worded questions and statements or name-calling can all be nothing more than veiled expressions of anger. This is a way to slowly kill each other one word at a time.
- Outright accusations. When name-calling doesn’t work angry people resort to “in your face” accusations. “Thou fool!” is the accusation Jesus mentioned which is like referring to someone as the worst kind of wicked person alive. These kinds of accusations are usually made loudly enough to be publicly known which leads to the next step, lawsuit.
- Lawsuits. Over the top, unsubstantiated accusations of this type are referred to as slander when spoken, libel when written, and serious penalties can be levied. Jesus, however, made it clear that the best option is to settle person to person without legal action.
- Violence. The unspoken but obvious possibility is physical violence that could end in death and for that consequences are unavoidable. Since Jesus started with that thought He didn’t repeat it later.
- You do not have to go very far or travel a long way to apply these teachings. All you need do is turn around.
It was in this context (Mathew 5) that Jesus taught us to “turn the other cheek” and “love our enemies” but the only people He mentions are “brothers,” “married mates” and “contracted partners.” All of these people are very close. They live well within range of a slap and, being this close, they have the greatest potential for doing things that make us angry.
Jesus is not trying to change the behavior of all capitalists toward all communists. He is teaching us how to relate to the people close to us.
- There is more than one type of murder
You can murder:
- A person’s Self Esteem by what you say to them.
- A person’s Reputation by what you say about them.
- A Relationship if these problems aren’t resolved.
- And, of course you can also murder a person physically when things really get out of hand.
“Murder” takes place on many different levels, in many different lives everyday. We are all guilty. By this rule, there are very few people who can say they have never committed some type of murder.
- Maintaining a relationship by the letter of the law generates more hate than love.
Law is what we turn to when love is lost. Divorce is a legally regulated transaction that occurs when love is diminished. However, even though divorce is never a pleasant development it doesn’t have to be “to the death” of either partner. All differences should be amicably handled when they can’t be avoided.
The potential love in any relationship is diminished in direct proportion to the amount of law you invoke to manage it and, of course, hate levels rise proportionally as well. The amount of law employed is determined by the amount of love lost. The only way to avoid the “bitter end” scenario is to use more love and less law.
- The people closest to us are God’s catalysts for constructive change.
Life change is God’s primary objective in every person’s life.
The truth? God cannot use a person He cannot change and He changes every person He uses. The changes He makes and the people He uses to stimulate those changes will often surprise you.
When we love people in spite of the anger producing things they do, change occurs in us. When change occurs in us we make it possible for change to occur in them.
This is why Jesus forewarned us against worshiping God while hating people. Being at odds with people is like disagreeing with God’s methods for implementing life change.
- It is OK to be angry “because” of a brother but it is never OK to stay angry “with” a brother.
Anger is a motivating emotion. It always compels us to take action but our actions should resolve the issues not pour fuel on them. Expressing anger verbally, with gestures or by retaliating only makes it grow.
And remember this.
- Your social needs will be met by the imperfect people in your life.
- Only God can make changes in the lives of these imperfect others.
- Some things in their lives He will never change.
- Some of their changes will be stimulated only when you change.
- And, the only person you can change is you.
Anger never accomplishes any good on its own but the actions we take in response have the potential to do great good or great harm. Everyone experiences anger but no one has to be hurt by it.
THINK!AboutIt before you respond.
Book Recommendation: A good book that explains the problematic nature of anger and provides exercises to improve skills to manage it is “When Anger Hurts” by Matthew McKay, Peter D. Rogers and Judith McKay.