My intention has never been to use LifeHurts as a venue for political discourse. But this is a blog about addressing the pain we suffer in this world, and the wild fire of political anger is raging aggressively enough for us to get burned. Without an understanding of how anger is fueled within our own heart, we risk losing the gospel oxygen needed to resist being sucked into flames that are devoid of godly reason. And when we lose godly reason, we lose our sole protection against the loss of moral reason. It doesn't take a complicated review of history to understand the wickedness we can surrender ourselves to apart from God's restraining grace.
There are reasons we are strongly warned in the Bible about the sin of anger. It's nature of revenge has never failed to prove its power to cause destruction. I want to discuss three facts about anger to help us better understand why this dark emotion is so politically dangerous and destructive if not carefully ruled and restrained:
1. Anger is a defense against pain.
The emotion of anger is a God-given response to the pain of loss. It comes with a surge of adrenaline that is invaluable in protecting us in the presence of danger, injustice and abuse. Anger was never intended to stand on the merit of its own worth, rather to stand on the merit of its worth in signaling that there is a deeper issue that needs attention. Like the canary in the coal mine, anger serves its purpose by guarding life with its death. It is meant to be short-lived. It's an emotion of intensity that is too unruly and reckless to bear the weight of responsibility. A platform of anger will always collapse under the feet of those who are foolish enough to stand on its illusion of power.
Our anger speaks volumes about our heart. It reflects those things that we treasure enough to feel pain when they are removed. It can be anger from the loss of love, security, freedom or control; and it can be anger from the loss of tangible resources such as safety, time, money or health. What causes one person to respond in anger may cause another to respond with indifference. Our heart is what dictates which losses stir the emotion of anger within us. Regardless of that dictation, the stirring is always a call to look beyond the anger, not linger on the anger; a call to rule the anger, not ride the anger.
The temptation to embrace anger is enticing because of our pride. Anger is comforting. It's like a warm blanket on a cold night, and moving beyond the heat of its emotion requires stepping into our pain and facing the chill of our loss. It requires stepping into a place of humility where, stripped of our warm perception of strength, we meet the cold perception of weakness. But it's pride, not humility, that renders us weak. Only the brave are able to stand courageously in the middle of their loss. Only the brave are able to stand in the middle of their pain while they calmly and carefully collect their thoughts. Emasculated by pride, the angry man is too frightened to face the pain of loss. Instead, he chooses to wield his power with the fuel of his own dark emotion. Whether he wields it with the raging vibrato of control or with the calm charm of calculation, his power flows from a heart that's too weakened by pride to be brave.
As long as we are in this fallen world we will face sorrow and suffering. The heat of our political climate is nothing more than a poignant reflection of the fiery pain of loss. The loss of national security, the loss of moral turpitude, the loss of stability, the loss of integrity. The emotion of anger to that painful loss is a natural, God-given response. But it's an emotion that is intended to drive us to a humble place of rational reasoning that's filled with the scent of grace, not to a prideful place of disorderly defense that's filled with the stench of sin.
2. Anger is a distraction from reason.
There is nothing that will rally people to a cause more successfully than the emotion of anger. The increase of adrenaline sharpens our senses and arouses our nervous system enough to physically move us to action. This adrenaline also affects our brain, strongly influencing our thinking. In the face of threat, it gives us the ability to quickly translate complex information into simple terms. Distracting us from sophisticated reasoning, it enables us to make split-second decisions. In an emergency situation this is invaluable. But outside the presence of threat, it's a mental functioning that's devoid of the ability to think carefully through the complex layers that are an integral part of problem-solving.
Garnering support by capitalizing on anger has always been a part of the political arena. This makes sense considering anger is an emotion that not only calls people to action but also incites them to impulsive declarations of allegiance. Political riots are one of clearest demonstrations of the power of anger to distract us from sound reasoning and rational thought. The following excerpt from this article by psychologist Ken Eisold is helpful in understanding how we are motivated to riot:
I had a notorious statistics professor in graduate school who loved reminding her students that our academic "acts of rebellion" in failing to comply with her rigid standards never represented the first act of our drama. If I hadn't been able to somehow win her over, I would still bear the scars from her dismissive hand waves and impatient declarations to puh-leeeeeze stop boring her with Act I and Act II.
Just like my graduate rebellion, civil disobedience of riotous unrestraint is never the first act in political drama. What's presently being played out on stage is the framing of a larger story, a story punctuated with seeds of anger sown long before today. We don't know the plot, but we do know that Reason has taken a major blow to the head. And that's why the statement "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters" is the single most dangerous articulation we have heard in this political maelestrom. Somtimes the lies of a person aren't as frightening as their statements of truth.
3. Anger is a desire for retribution.
My intense emotional design leaves me struggling to restrain my tongue in the heat of emotion. Unlike my husband, the adrenaline of anger doesn't strip me of my ability to articulate. Instead, it empowers me to run through the stacks of my mental library and pull vocabulary books from shelves I never knew existed. Without the restraint of gospel grace, my words can be dangerously destructive because anger always comes with a desire for retribution.
The reason we desire retribution is because we are image-bearers of a God of justice. Anger is a response to the pain of loss, and desiring to "settle the score" is part of being His creation. He has put within our hearts a yearning for all to be fair and balanced. But He has told us that He is the one who is the righteous leveler, that He is the one who will balance the scales, and that He is the one who will enact vengeance with his holy hand of perfect justice.
Even if vengeance were lawfully placed in our hands, our human judgment is too skewed by sin and too distorted by mortal limitation to be executed rightly. This side of Eternity, the justice for which we yearn will be imperfectly balanced at best and grotesquely unfair at worst. Patiently accepting the injustice of our fallen condition is a vital part of keeping our eyes fixed on Christ. It's a vital part of eagerly awaiting our full redemption when the Great Leveler will make all things perfectly balanced and just.
The climate is heating up in the political arena even as it seems to be growing darker. But take heart! We have a message of hope that is impervious to the fire of political rage. And as we live out the gospel with a love that repels the flames of anger, the darkness allows the Light of the World to shine that much brighter.