Everybody has that one memory of breaking something in their house as a child. There are several phases to these types of memories. The first phase is remembering doing something fun, never suspecting that it would lead to an accident. It might be hitting a baseball while directly facing the window of a house. It might be jumping on a bed or couch, not realizing how fragile the furniture was. The second phase is the accident. The baseball going through the window, shattering it. The springs puncturing the fabric or foam of the couch. The third phase is fear. The fear that your parents will get angry at you for doing something reckless and ruining something because of it.
It’s natural to have a healthy fear of authority. In a quality environment, authority is placed there to guide you, help you, and steer you in the right direction towards civil obedience, responsibility, and prudence. When you violate those guidelines, it’s expected that you’ll face some repercussions. But sometimes, those repercussions involve anger.
Recently on The Inner Life, Father Chris Walsh joined the show to talk about the ways that anger hinders our relationship with God and how we can try to let go of our negative emotions and instead find inner peace.
Even though anger is listed as one of the seven deadly sins, it is often relegated to the realm of emotions. It’s seen as a natural response and therefore normal. However, as Father Chris pointed out, there are facets to anger, including the fact that there is sinful anger (wrath) and righteous anger. Additionally, there is the emotion of anger, the visceral escalation of frustration or hatred, and then there is the choice of anger, the conscious decision to embrace this reaction.
Josh began the conversation on the side effects of anger by talking about the physical consequences. Josh said that if he were to get angry, “In the next two hours, my chance of having a heart attack doubles. In that same two-hour window, [I’m] three times more likely to have a stroke. Anger is also linked to anxiety and depression and a Harvard study even found that angry people have lung and breathing problems.” That’s certainly a long list of negative effects of getting angry. But more importantly, how does sinful anger affect our spiritual lives?
Father Chris answered by comparing the seven deadly sins to drug use. Marijuana is commonly referred to as the “gateway drug” meaning that it often leads to the use or abuse of other, more serious drugs. In that sense, anger can very similarly be our “gateway sin”. While pride is considered the root of all evils, Father Chris says that for many, that name can be applied to anger because pride is often a manifestation of our inability to admit when we were wrong, when we got angry for no reason.
“When I choose the path of anger, I’m choosing the path of resentment. I’m choosing the path of separating from other people. And again, the two great commands, love God [and] love others, will both become violated.” Getting angry at others, refusing to forgive, refusing to let go, it all results in others eventually becoming angry at you. In that way, anger becomes a cycle, one side founded in pride and the other founded in frustration.
Righteous anger is the other side of the coin, the phenomenon of experiencing the emotion of anger without making the choice to embrace it and sinfully act on it. Very often, we are unable to control the emotions that come up in our bodies and that is natural, but we face sinful anger when we come to the fork in the road. We can either choose aggression, violence, or hatred or we can choose peace, humility, and submission to God’s will. Righteous anger is seen several times in scripture, including when Jesus drove the money changers from the temple and multiple times when Paul writes to the Church.
Father Chris offered the definition of meekness as told by Robert Barclay: Meekness is being angry when someone else is wronged, but not when we are wronged. We should all strive to have the humility to accept life’s obstacles as they come with patience and fortitude. However, we should not be afraid to stand up against wrong-doing and seek reconciliation, especially if it’s fueled by righteous anger.
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