The Eight Patterns: Anger

... a desire for something "right."

A desire
for something "right"

Fire, a frequently used metaphor for anger (as in "hot-headed"), aptly illustrates the danger of this pattern. While it is not always a sin to be angry, anger always creates an opportunity for further trouble. Whereas righteous anger never acts rashly, excessively or inappropriately, impure anger is characterized by impaired judgment.Anger is often fueled by a desire to correct a perceived injustice or to accomplish a specific purpose. Even when the injustice is real or the purpose is noble, anger can still have devastating consequences. It can be easy to justify, yet difficult to control.
with kindness
Commonly understood
as wrath, rage
Not to confused
with righteous indignation
Other forms:
vengeance, irritability, pugnacity, jealousy, murder, disruptiveness, impatience, irreconcilability, contradiction

Imagine the following situations: Your favorite team loses badly in the playoffs. You get a paper cut while filling out a tax form. A dog digs a hole in your front yard. Someone cuts in front of you in the lunch line. A coworker makes a blatantly racist remark. A television program mocks your religious beliefs. A neighbor falsely accuses you of stealing. A stranger threatens to harm your child.

There are a virtually unlimited number of things that frustrate, irritate, and/or disappoint us. Sometimes these issues are trivial, while other times they are quite legitimate. They are often beyond our control, and they almost always provoke a response. How should you respond when goaded by the spirit of anger? Will you walk away from the problem or spring into action? If you act, will you seek God-honoring justice or pursue self-serving revenge?

The potential for anger is present within everyone, which would make this a natural pattern. However, it can also be considered an unnatural pattern, because it is provoked by things and/or events outside of one's created, human nature.

Anger is an exclusive pattern. It is difficult to distract those who are intently focused on their anger. They tend to focus their every resource towards achieving satisfaction.

An angry spirit and a teachable spirit are mutually exclusive. Likewise, an angry spirit cannot coexist with the spirits of generosity, humility, longsuffering, wisdom and love. Even the grip of the other patterns is weakened in the presence of intense anger. Anyone who believes they can grow spiritually while harboring unresolved anger is a fool.

Anger is fairly straightforward. One can often identify it as problematic in other people, yet be blind to it in their own life. It is easy to justify, but difficult to avoid. As a process, anger moves faster than the other patterns, and rapidly leads to a variety of extreme and unpredictable activity. The spark that ignites anger is often trivial, but the devastating consequences are not.

Anger is the octopus of patterns. Its many tentacles touch every other pattern. While it is most often considered a "follower" pattern, it also serves as powerful fuel for each of the other patterns.

The most common interrelationships between anger and other patterns is that it consistently follows frustrated greed and regularly leads to inflated sadness.

Anger is manifested in three forms, each of which may be illustrated by a type of fire:

1) an internal rage, which is like a fire in a fireplace (must be tended, generally contained)
2) an external outburst, which is like a lightning strike (quick to strike and dissipate, can be very deadly)
3) a persistent obsession, which is like a pilot light (always on, often unnoticed, capable of starting a bigger fire)

Anger impairs your judgment, hampers your perception, reduces your sense of purpose, and damages your capacity for godly living. It turns you into a fool, makes you less likely to listen to reason, and encourages you to act rashly. Anger lessens you – it makes you smaller.

Because of the relative ease with which anger can be unleashed, temptations here are particularly persistent. Satan fuels anger (and even, on occasion, righteous indignation) because he can easily turn it into something he can use.

Anger is responsible for many types of self-inflicted wounds. Even when someone does not follow through on their angry thoughts, injuries are still incurred.

Anger severely tests self-control. Victory over this pattern will help attain victory over other patterns, especially the natural appetites (gluttony and lust).

Likewise, falling to anger hinders spiritual progress and makes it more difficult to discern God's guidance. Those who wonder why God doesn't take a more active role in their lives are quite possibly suffering from anger-induced blindness. The issue is not really God's apparent lack of activity, but the individual's lack of ability to discern God's activity.

Contrary to popular opinion, the pattern of anger is never useful, necessary, or unavoidable. Some people justify their anger by blaming it on something outside of their control (such as their upbringing or temperament). They have resigned themselves to the "fact" that their anger is uncontrollable. This is not true! Anger can be tamed. The situation is not hopeless. Victory is possible.

ASPIRE. Focus on prayer. Pray that you will not get angry. Pray for those who cause you to grow angry. Pray immediately whenever you are tempted to be angry. Skip flowery words and keep your prayers short and direct.

Avoid solitude. It allows anger to simmer. In most cases, it is not healthy to be alone with your thoughts while consumed by anger. Be especially watchful at night when anger tends to fester in the gap between going to bed and falling asleep.

Be alert for signs of physical duress. Anger can seriously impact your health (i.e., ulcers, insomnia, loss of diet, and many more). If you are suffering physically in your struggle with anger, then you need professional, qualified, Biblical counseling.

Attack the root instead of the fruit. Many people address symptoms rather than causes. For example, suppose you are easily angered whenever you are with a particular person. Avoiding that person can provide some relief from the temptation to be angry, but it would be far from a complete solution. Eventually, you will need to figure whythat person causes you so much frustration, and resolve the problem.

Be truthful. Playing loose with the truth fuels anger.

Do not allow your anger to cause someone else to stumble, or you will invite sadness.

Sing Scripture songs, such as choruses based on the book of Psalms. Music really is soothing, and God's Word is empowering. Together, they can work wonders against anger.

Be very careful about offering to "help" someone while you're angry. If your judgment is clouded (which happens with anger), then you are more likely to more harm than good.

Strive to maintain a healthy disdain for sin so that you can avoid learning lessons in the "school of hard knocks." It is difficult to sustain a healthy hatred of sin. Too often, we find the pleasure of sin and continue in it until a time of reckoning. It is always easiest to hate sin in the aftermath of messy consequences.

Let it go. Like a pond, anger cannot be "dried up" unless the springs which feed it are stopped up. Many arguments are sustained because the various sides are fueled by firm convictions that they are correct. Perhaps you need to swallow your pride and walk away from the argument, even if (or especially if) you are right. What is more important: to be right, or to be right with God?

Suffer. Life is unfair. You should not respond in anger every time you are victimized. Longsuffering is a severely underappreciated and underused virtue, despite being particularly effective against anger. Whenever you are treated unjustly, "take it on the chin," especially if you did nothing to deserve it. Injustice is an opportunity for growth.

Forgive. A powerful antidote to anger is forgiveness. If you are guilty, then seek forgiveness. If you have been wronged, then freely give it.

Sidebar: Godly Anger
Cassian was uncomfortable with the idea of an angry God. He taught that whenever Scripture referred to God as angry, it was speaking anthropomorphically in an effort to help us comprehend God's role as Judge and Avenger. I believe he was on the right track, yet failed to arrive at a complete conclusion. Unlike Cassian, I believe God does get angry, but I insist on a caveat: His anger is not at all like the pattern of anger described here. By definition, all of the patterns relate to impure thoughts, which God cannot ever entertain.

In the interest of clarity and precision, I will use "anger" to refer exclusively to the pattern of anger and "indignation" to refer godly anger. There are additional alternative terms, such as wrath, fury, and incensiveness.

Whatever God's "anger" may entail, we can rest assured that it is always pure, holy and just. It never conflicts with His love, mercy, grace, kindness or forgiveness. From a human perspective, this may appear to be an irreconcilable contradiction, but that cannot be so.

God's indignation is the model for mankind's ability to be righteously indignant. This is the only form of anger that God permits. It can be a useful weapon in spiritual warfare, but must be used with great care. Even though it is not sinful, it is nonetheless very dangerous and can easily turn into ungodly anger.

Righteous indignation is always of limited duration, and does not dwell in the past. It must be focused on specific targets that displease God (such as poverty, violence, abuse, exploitation, depravity, insensitivity, etc.) and dedicated to a particular course of corrective action. Historically, indignation has been a major motivating factor in tackling social injustice, slavery, child abuse, homelessness, racism, oppression, and many other abominable practices.

Righteous indignation should always be preceded and followed by prayer.

Righteous indignation should be used in conjunction with godly sorrow. These two virtues have a tempering effect upon each other. "Anger" moderates "sorrow," and vice versa. For example, "anger" can motivate you to rebuke an erring brother, while "sorrow" prevents you from going too far. Paul, in several of his epistles, demonstrates how they effectively work together.

Righteous indignation can function like a watchdog. It can protect your spiritual health, but you must carefully train it to attack wolves instead of sheep (i.e., don't allow your anger to be misdirected at an inappropriate target).

If you are too easily provoked to anger, then avoid all forms of it, even righteous indignation. If you ignore this warning, then you are playing with fire and you will get burned.

Every form of anger will raise barriers. It does not matter what the barrier is or how it was constructed, it will always create an obstruction.

The most serious problem is the negative impact anger can have on prayer. If prayer is indeed how we approach the throne room of God (it is), and even indignation can get in the way of fellowship with God, is it worth it? Ask yourself: what is the greatest possible benefit, and what is the worst possible consequence? Is the risk justified?

Early church writers held differing opinions on the use of anger. Many advocated indignation as a valuable tool, but some authorities argued against its use in any way. Whatever your decision, be very careful.

Vengeance is not a sin; however it belongs exclusively to God. It is solely His prerogative. To seek revenge is to usurp the authority of God.

"Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." – Leviticus 19:17-18

"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." – Romans 12:19-21

Scripture clearly admonishes us to avoid anger and embrace gentleness, patience and love.

"Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret -- it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land." – Psalm 37:8-9

"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." – Proverbs 15:1

"A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel." – Proverbs 15:18

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." – Ephesians 4:31

"But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips." – Colossians 3:8

"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." – 1 Timothy 2:8

"Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness." – 1 John 2:9

"If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." – 1 John 4:20

To be direct, an angry man is a fool.

"A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult." – Proverbs 12:16

"A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated." – Proverbs 14:17

"A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly." – Proverbs 14:29

"Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools." – Ecclesiastes 7:9

Jesus directly addresses anger and its role in sparking conflict. It is impossible to love peace and nurse anger at the same time.

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." – Matthew 5:21-24

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." – Matthew 5:38-42

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." – Matthew 5:43-48

"So watch yourselves. 'If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, "I repent," forgive him.'" – Luke 17:3-4

It is better for you to suffer an injustice than to seek retribution. A longsuffering Christian models Christ to the world, while a merciless Christian is an embarrassment to His name.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." – Matthew 5:10

"The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers." – 1 Corinthians 6:7-8

Anger is infectious, so stay away from angry people.

"Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared." – Proverbs 22:24-25

Tempered anger is permissible, but be very careful with it.

"In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold." – Ephesians 4:26-27

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." – James 1:19-21

"An angry man cannot see light. The impure man cannot attain it." – Evagrius Ponticus, Reflections 7 (Aramaic).

"The prayer of the irascible person is an abominable incense offering; the psalmody of an angry person is an irritating noise." – Evagrius Ponticus, Eight Thoughts IV.18.

"Those who store up hurts and resentments in themselves and think they can pray are like people who draw water and put it in a jar full of holes." – Evagrius Ponticus,Prayer 22.

"No one with a love for true prayer who entertains anger or harbours resentment escapes madness, for that is like one who wants acuity of vision but does harm to his own eyes." – Evagrius Ponticus, Prayer 64.

"Just because you have not hurt someone does not mean you are harmless." – adapted from John Cassian, Institute VIII.19.

"For the end and aim of patience consists, not in being angry with a good reason, but in not being angry at all." – John Cassian, Institute VIII.21.

"As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats; so, at the fragrance of humility, all anger and bitterness vanishes." – John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Assent 8.

Jesus "upgraded" lust in the Sermon of the Mount. He expanded the definition to include the heart. The same thing takes places with greed and other patterns as Jesus raises the standard for godliness. Actually, these tougher restrictions are foreshadowed and/or implied throughout the Old Testament, but not explicitly stated as such. Jesus addressed this by unambiguously expanding the definitions to include the heart and mind.

All of this is to say that anger was not expanded. The mind and heart restrictions were already clearly in place in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 19:17-18).

Anger, like sadness, leaves a trail of many victims in its wake. Unlike sadness, anger's victims are generally perceived to have "had it coming" and deserved at least some measure of retribution.

Both Evagrius and Cassian believed it is impossible for anger to get a foothold without first succumbing to greed.

Just because you have not lost your temper in a while does not mean that you have eradicated anger in your life. It simply means you haven't been provoked – the anger can still be there. The best time to work on anger is when it lies relatively dormant and your judgment is less impaired.

Do not assume that just because God does something that it is permissible for humans to do it as well. For instance, He accepts worship, which we are never permitted to do. Just because God can be "angry" does not automatically authorize us to be angry as well.

Fantasies of anger are deadly. Nursing thoughts of anger is ungodly, even if you do not act it out. Patience and restraint are not virtuous whenever anger is part of the equation. There is nothing admirable about holding back and biding your time before taking revenge.

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