This morning I was reading from Pastoral Care by St. Gregory the Great. Gregory is one of my favorites because he writes for pastors in a voice and with a genuine concern that speaks across the centuries from his office in Middle Ages Rome to my office in third millennia West Coast America. His words spoke to me particularly about something I’ve been observing for a while. In this particular section he is advising on how to deal with those who are too “meek” and too “choleric.” Choleric is not a word we use often, but in this context it just means volatile or angry. Gregory writes,
“When rage drives them headlong, they do not realise (sic) what they are doing in their anger, they do not realise what suffering their anger creates for themselves. But sometimes—and this a more serious matter—they think that the goad of anger is zeal for righteousness; and when vice is thought to be virtue, guilt accumulates without apprehension.”
As I unpack that for us we find that Gregory indicates angry people often do not realize the problem(s) their anger creates for themselves and others. Part of an angry person’s problem is that he or she confuses anger for zeal—godly zeal. This zeal is thought to be righteous. These people assume that they are justified in their anger and this snowballs the problems all the more. Gregory might say it like this today, “There is nothing worse than an angry person who thinks God is as angry as they are.”
The reason this spoke to me so much is that we live in an angry age.
People are angry all the time; and those who are not angry are looking for someone to be angry at or something to be angry about. This anger can be found in the current political landscape, in our religious dialogues, and in our family lives. It strikes me, and I could be wrong, but people strive to live in conflict more than they strive to live in peace (c/f Heb 12:14).
Many people no longer want peace, they want to be right! Hence, that leads us back to Gregory’s concept of righteous zeal. The Anger-O-Meter is so high that it is hard not to get swept up in the hostilities.
However, as a follower of Christ I am called to be dedicated to the truth and right living. I am not, however, called to be angry about others who do not. The actions of others may grieve me, make me want to flee, or strategize a way to evangelize but never to be angry. With very few exceptions, it is not “OK” for a believer in Jesus to be angry. The Bible says “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Most of the yelling, screaming, accusing, and spitting we do when we are angry is definitely a sin. We are guilty of taking of behavioral cues from the world instead of behaving in a redeemed fashion.
The next time you feel a good righteous anger coming on; may I suggest that you stifle it by taking a moment to pray it through. Ask God to show you “Why?” you are angry. Then, perhaps, read the Sermon on the Mount. That always has a way of changing my perspective on things. Finally; refuse to comment. Things usually only go downhill after we open our mouths. Faith in the Lord often means allowing him to handle the rebuttal.
Trust the Lord.
Hold your tongue.
Let it go.
Be a person of peace in a world of anger.