anger

If it’s one thing that separates me from the God of the Bible and the God who guides Jesus, it is not judgment. It is anger. I don’t think it is possible to live in a world with a moral compass and not have a form of judgment. When people deride being “judgmental” nine times out of ten it is not the act of forming a judgment they criticize, it is “what” they are judging. For instance judge someone because s/he is selfish or indifferent or cruel and you won’t hear many complaints, provided you can back up those charges. But judge someone on the basis of what they look like, what their race is, their gender, their orientation, you will have a fight on your hands. To sum up I refer to Martin Luther King Jr. who said he had a dream of a time when we would not be judged on the colour of our skin but rather on the content of our character.

There are moments when God judges in the Bible and I find the criteria problematic. The story of Noah’s Ark leaves me troubled. Why would a judging God punish all of humanity for moral failing? But as a matter of form I have absolutely no trouble believing in a God who makes judgments. Surely this is what social justice is about, that it is more just to do these acts and believe these things, than it is to do those other acts and believe those other things. Our fight with judgment ought to be about what we judge. Surely none of us want to live in a society where we are indifferent to questions of judgment.

No, what leaves me cold in the Bible is the temper God seems to display. I know this is my issue as it would seem only fair and right that a God takes the side of the vulnerable and oppressed would be angry about this injustice. But I have a hard time getting there. I feel just as strongly as anyone that we need to right the wrongs of our world and in many ways I act on these beliefs as much as anyone. But it is not anger that fuels me. It is a core conviction that what is wrong must be put right. 

In fact one of the quirks of my personality is that unlike most people I will not get defensive when criticized but you will totally lose me if you add anger to the mix. My friends who understand this know that I am open to their every opinion and critique, will listen till the wee hours to the disappointment they might have in my decisions but the minute they get angry I will clench my jaw and take a defensive and argumentative position. The hardest changes for me to make in myself are the ones I learned about from an angry friend. I can get there, I can change under those circumstances, but the addition of anger will slow my transformation considerably.

What I need to process is whether the anger is a righteous anger on behalf of a cause or a knee-jerk anger that is less about the substance of the topic and more about the easy way to make one’s point. Righteous anger can so easily be a manipulated form of replacing well thought out rational reasons for something with an emotional bite that makes no connection to anything beyond a cheap tactic to silence the other.

I know myself and I know that anger is a block to me in my relationships. My anger tends to be buried in passive-aggressive remarks. More and more I am being open and honest about what bothers me in others. But I know I will never be able to get emotionally angry the way others do. This not only a barrier to my relationships with others it is also a barrier at times in my relationship with God. For sometimes I feel God’s anger toward others or toward me and it leaves me cold and distant. In the Psalms the author literally yells at God and God often does the same in return. It is the ending of those Psalms, where the dialogue turns to a steady trust, an experience of knowing God in Creation and Truth and Justice, where I come back to listening and understanding.

When we know the issues that divide us we know the opportunities that are presented for new growth and deeper wisdom.