Two days ago someone I know who I would prefer not to know made me very angry.
I was so angry that when I went grocery shopping, I left all of my purchased bags of groceries in my shopping cart in the parking lot and then drove all the way home to discover they weren’t in my car. At which point I drove all the way back to the grocery store to see if they were still there. They weren’t. I consoled myself by trusting that some person who really needed frozen pizza, coconut popsicles and an array of Greek yogurts, among other things, had made off with my cart. In this way my anger would be at least somewhat redemptive for someone, even if it cost me $30.
I was still pretty angry the next day, despite that whole passage in the Bible about not letting the sun go down on one’s anger. My slightly sticky brain held on to all those thoughts about what I would really tell this person if I had the chance. I visualized taking a swing, maybe yelling that three-word declaration that when made, earns my kids a bar of Dove soap in their mouth: I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you. (There were some other uncensored words in the mix as well.) Fortunately, my kids weren’t there to see me hurling a string of mean words at the mirror in a pretend exchange with this truly despicable person.
So yesterday I must have still been dealing with the residual anger from the previous day’s exchange. This is the only explanation I can muster for why at the end of last night’s party I would first misplace my keys somewhere in a friend’s house, then leave a delicate, antique china platter on the top of my car to drive off and hear, one mile later, over the sound of fireworks in downtown Atlanta, a loud shattering.
One look in the side view mirror had confirmed my suspicions. I found myself marveling at how that delicate fragile platter had managed to balance itself precariously on the roof of my RAV-4 Toyota for even that long, and then briefly amused myself by imagining the reaction this morning from the little, old lady who steps out of her house to find pieces of rose-colored, gold-gilded china strewn in the road in front of her yard. ”What in God’s good name happened here?,” she wonders.
I’m at a loss to explain.
Thankfully, Jesus got angry, too- albeit in much more altruistic ways. This week I’ll preach on the story of Lazarus. Translations of this story, in describing Jesus’ reaction as one of being “greatly troubled,” tend to miss the original connotation in Greek that Jesus was downright angry. Angry at a world in which people have to die and bad things happen to good people, where there is weeping and suffering and brokenness.
After that antique china platter shattered, I called a good friend while still en route home under a night sky bursting with big, bright displays of color. She listened as I explained all of the reasons for my righteous anger. She laughed as I told her the story of the wandering grocery bags, missing keys and broken china. Then she said, “Kristina, it’s clear that you need a little centering.”
And, of course, she’s right. What is anger, really, but a de-centering of our sense of being in control or calling the shots or having our way? I suspect that our average, garden-variety anger often hinges on the conviction that we really are more righteous than another human being who has wronged us by his or her actions. That we deserve better from others or from God. That we have good cause to be angry.
And often we may. Often anger is a healthy stage in one’s healing. It tells us that we don’t deserve to be treated unjustly. It clues us in to the things we most value and hold dear. Things like honesty or trustworthiness or loyalty in our friends.
Often the church forgets these more constructive dimensions to anger, preferring passive aggressiveness to authentic expressions. I remember listening to a whole sermon about why anger is just downright bad. Such responses to anger, in addition to being pastorally useless, are unbiblical. The Bible is replete with passages that give voice to anger. Being angry is part of being human. The question is more, how are we to manage and deal with our anger?
Healthy expressions of anger, like writing or calling a good friend who will give honest and truthful counsel, maybe in some cases confronting the offending person if it’s safe and the raw emotions have settled a bit, have helped me. Asking how anger, whatever its cause or justification, might be constructive is another.
As I drove home last night reflecting on the meaning of “centering,” I came again to Jesus standing before Lazarus’ tomb, greatly angered in spirit. Jesus’ anger in that moment was totally in alignment with God’s heart for the world: if it succeeded in in any way “de-centering” Jesus, it was also a recalibration of sorts. Jesus’ anger became further impetus to carry out God the Father’s mission of healing and redemption; and, it became the prelude to new, resurrected life.
There is no reason to doubt that our anger, like everything else profane in this world that God can make holy, can be sanctified like this, too.