19 Feb 18 Inches: Myths About Anger
This is the fourth installment of our blog series, “18 Inches: Myths that Disconnect the Head From the Heart”. Our goal is to identify some of the lies we’ve been taught about our emotions and counter it with the truth. Click here to view the rest of the series.
Myth #13: You Should Control Anger at all Costs
If anger is what the world teaches us – harmful, selfish, vengeful, and unkind – then there would be just cause to control it at all costs. But the feeling of anger is none of these things. Chip Dodd describes anger as the emotion that, “Exposes what we value and expresses our willingness to do what is required to reach that value…It allows us to stay with our values, take sides, and even die for what we believe in.” In essence, anger is the emotion that tells me, “this matters.”
Most of us express anger kind of like the Hulk. At the beginning of the movie, The Avengers, Duce Banner lives in hiding for fear that his alter-ego, the Hulk, might be triggered and damage others. He describes the Hulk as “the other guy,” and “the monster,” as if it was a part of him that, once triggered, he could not control. By the end of the movie, however, he is no longer afraid. Instead of being controlled by the Hulk, he learns how to leverage his anger for the good of those around him. In my favorite scene of the movie, Banner arrives to help fight the final battle. In the face of the coming enemy, Captain America looks at him and says, “Now might be a good time to get angry.” Banner responds, “That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always angry.” And with a turn of his heel, he transforms into the Hulk and runs off to fight.
Many of us treat our anger like a hulk living inside of us. We suppress it with all our power because we are afraid of the damage it might cause. Sooner or later, something sets us off and our “hulk” bursts out with reckless force. But controlling and suppressing our anger will not lead to the full life we desire. The truth is, “If you wish you experience life to the fullest, your heart requires that you be willing to feel anger.”
For us to accept this truth, and the following truths about anger, we must learn the difference between the emotion of anger and the expression of it. Banner realizes that anger is his secret because it allows him to fight for what he believes in. Instead of getting rid of his emotion, he simply learns a healthier way to express it. In order for us to accept our anger, we too must distinguish the emotion from the expression. We embrace the feelings of anger as we fight to express it in the most loving and healthy way.
Myth #14: Anger Destroys all Relationships
Because we treat our anger like a looming hulk inside of us, we tend to accept the lie that anger destroys relationships. In reality, the inverse is true. Anger fuels relationships.
Before my wife and I started dating, we were hanging out with a group of friends. Her “best friend” was there, and he was really touchy-feely. Too touchy-feely for my comfort. As I watched his interactions with her, these strange emotions started bubbling up inside of me and I was just like, “Why is this dude so touchy-feely?!” As I began to process my emotions I had to ask myself, “Why does this matter so much to me?” And that’s when my feelings for her became most evident to me. My anger fueled my heart to pursue a relationship with my wife – it did not destroy it.
The same is true in our relationship with the Lord. Romans 8:37-39 says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Why do we know that nothing will separate us from God’s love? Because He is angry for us. He is angry for you. He is angry for me. We matter to Him. These verses are an expression of the anger and passion of God for His people. God’s anger drives Him to pursue us, protect us, and persevere with us. Anger fuels relationship. It does not destroy it.
Myth #15: Anger and Rage are Synonyms
Rage and anger are look-a-likes. Sometimes they look so much the same that we cannot distinguish them. While our expressions of them may mirror one another, the root of these two are radically different. The truth is, anger is reaching for life. Rage is avoiding being scared. Anger is a desire to live. Rage is a desire to control our fears. Rage is actually an impaired expression of fear. (For more on rage and fear, listen to full sermon, Living Fearful.)
In Genesis 4, Cain and Abel present offerings to the Lord. The Lord is pleased with Abel’s offering. But He is displeased with Cain’s. Cain responds to the situation with anger and distress. Read how the Lord responds to Cain in verses six and seven. “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
God doesn’t rebuke Cain for having the emotion of anger. Instead, he challenges Cain not to allow his anger to control him because it will lead to sin.
No matter which emotion you feel, if left unattended, it can lead us toward sin. This isn’t unique to anger. The impaired expressions of each emotion ultimately lead us toward sin and isolation. To do healthy emotional work, we have to realize that God has given us our feelings to tell us where we are. He wants us to confess them, not suppress or push them down.
As Christians, we often struggle to reconcile the different ways the Bible talks about anger. One verse says “Remove all anger and wrath.” Another verse commands, “Be angry, but do not sin.” To expound on this fully would require more space than we have in the blog. But I did not want to ignore this tension we often face. For more on the original words used for anger and how they are translated in these verses, check out the full sermon on anger and the chapter on anger in The Voice of the Heart Workbook.
Myth #16: All Depression is Created Equal
If anger exposes what we value and our willingness to do what it takes to reach that value, then the impaired expression of anger comes when we push down those values and desires, when our passions are suppressed or depressed. This is why depression is one of the impaired expressions of anger.
But not all depression is created equal. The truth is, depression has many expressions. The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as, “A common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable.”
I am not a medical doctor or a psychiatrist. My goal here is not to do a thorough explanation of depression as a medical condition. Rather, what I hope to do is validate the different ways we experience depression and see it expressed. In my research, I found examples of clinical depression, situational depression, depression linked to chemical imbalances, and even spiritual depression. Some types of depression require medical attention. Others may require more focused counseling.
In his article, Is Everything you think you know about Depression Wrong?, Johann Hari writes, “If you are depressed and anxious, you are not a machine with malfunctioning parts. You are a human being with unmet needs. The only real way out of our epidemic of despair is for all of us, together, to begin to meet those human needs – for deep connection, to the things that really matter in life.”
My encouragement to us is to life fully and feel fully, to reject our tendency to depress our passion for life, and to seek those who can help us when we are depressed. Remember, the most dangerous place for a sheep to be is alone. The wolves can easily pick off sheep who are isolated from the others. The lies of our culture and the enemy sound a lot more like truth when we isolate from our family. If you are struggling with depression, reach out. Reach out to your Missional Community Leader, to someone in your DNA group, or to our counseling services.
Dhati Lewis is the Lead Pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia and the Executive Director of Community Restoration with the North American Mission Board. He earned his Master of Arts in Cross Cultural Ministry from Dallas Theological Seminary and most recently received his Doctorate of Ministry in Great Commission Mobilization from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dhati has seven beautiful children and is married to Angie, a discerning woman who empowers and encourages him to live fully in his identity in Christ. He is the author of both the Bible Study and book, Among Wolves: Disciple Making in the City.
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