How to keep anger under control
My name is Mark.
My parents named me after Mars, the god of war. Perhaps they didn’t know any better. Or perhaps it was an intuition. Mars was a petty deity, a whining coward and a rancorous bully, who knew how to nurse the smallest grudge into full-scale carnage.
And it probably doesn’t help that I’m Scottish, three-generations removed: I have the spirit of the highlander, the poet-brawler, running in my veins. In 2010 I went to Scotland for the first time. I noticed something the minute I crossed the border from England: road signs everywhere warning against the lethal dangers of road rage.
“Ah,” Cheryl said, “So that’s where it comes from.”
Well, where it comes from—in me, in you, in anyone—has a deeper root, regardless of ethnicity or namesake.
Anger, indeed, seems our birthright. Especially men’s.
Several years ago, two pastors— Newman Smith and Robert Hall—got into a dispute over some point of doctrine. Smith wrote a take-no-prisoners pamphlet in which he denounced Hall in scathing terms. But he was stumped for a title for his pamphlet, and so sent it to a friend to read and suggest one.
This was not Smith’s first outing as an author. The year previously he published a well-received tract called “Come to Jesus.” Smith’s friend read his latest effort, and sent back his title suggestion: “Go to Hell” by the Author of “Come to Jesus.”
No wonder the Bible is thick with admonition about anger, this most volatile of emotions. We’re warned not to let the sun go down on our anger, to not let the devil get a foothold in it. We’re told that anger never accomplishes God’s purposes, and letting it run unchecked is like murder. We’re cautioned that those who rage and brawl without restraint will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. It’s a long list of warnings, and sobering.
But it’s proved, at least in my case, a weak antidote.
We can hear all the warnings: the psychological and physiological ones, alerting us to the toll anger takes on our mental and physical health; the sociological ones, depicting the brutality of anger scaled up to the proportions of war; the theological ones, portraying the damage anger does to the soul (both our own and that of another).
We can know all this, know it so well we could teach it, maybe even write a column on it, and still find anger welling up in us at the slightest provocation, the tiniest inconvenience. The warnings are like a garden hose against a wild fire.
A better way
But I’ve discovered a more excellent way. The Bible recognizes that resisting sin is of some value. But it’s limited. The deeper and wiser strategy is to replace sin with something better: lust with intimacy, greed with generosity, envy with thankfulness.
And anger with shalom.
The Apostle Paul writes: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Col. 3:15). In the Greek, the phrase “let the peace of Christ rule” can literally be translated “make Christ’s shalom your umpire.”
Peace is an umpire.
This fascinates me. Even better, it helps me. Here’s why. Anger is a ruling passion. It takes over. It waylays. It ambushes. It barges in and demands its way. And peace is a passive emotion. It sits and waits. It flees when threatened. It backs off, and yields ground.
Until Jesus comes along. His peace is tenacious, subversive, resilient. It’s boss. It rules. His peace is an umpire.
In baseball, the umpire is boss. He decides what’s allowed and what’s not. The opinions of players and fans alike are irrelevant. What the umpire says is what is. He rules and over-rules. No further discussion.
Christ’s peace works like that. It can rule and over-rule where anger is trying to call the shots. You can actually call in the peace of Christ to settle a matter. You’re angry with your wife? Call in Christ’s peace to rule, to decide how this gets played. You’re wanting vengeance for a hurt inflicted? Submit it to Christ’s peace, and let him render his verdict.
Christ’s peace then does more than rule in our heart: it floods it. It washes out what was there, and replaces it with shalom.
Try it. Next time anger rises, call in the umpire. Let him rule.