By Cara Strickland—
For so much of my life I worried about being angry. There’s a verse in Ephesians—perhaps you know it—that reads: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). First as a child, then as a young adult, I wondered about that line—how would I know when anger went too far and turned into sin? What would happen if the sun went down and I hadn’t processed my anger yet? It seemed too risky, so I tried not to be angry.
But when you’re paying attention, it can be hard not to get angry.
I was angry when I wasn’t valued at work, when I heard about yet another school shooting, when I found out that a friend’s husband had been abusive. When I looked around, I found a lot to inspire anger—a lot that just wasn’t right. Anger often felt like the only response.
There are plenty of things that I can’t do anything about— illness, natural disasters, the loss of a friend’s children far too early, acts of hate perpetrated around the world. I can’t fix these things, but I can be angry. In fact, I can’t help it.
Here’s what I’ve learned about anger: It can make you freeze. It can come upon you like a cloak and immobilize you. It can wrap you in an echo chamber where all you can do is exclaim about how horrible the thing is. Anger can make it hard to move. It is easy to get stuck in a cathartic yelling match with God, with yourself, with someone on the Internet. Unless you channel that anger somewhere, it can keep you spinning in circles.
Years ago, my mother shared with me a quote by Augustine of Hippo: “Hope has two beautiful daughters: Their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Perhaps Paul intended for us to realize this after reading his letter to the Ephesians. Let the anger come, but don’t let it keep you from moving toward wholeness. Let the anger come, so it can fuel your desire to help bring about change in the world. Pair it with courage.
You see, even though that verse is frequently translated as “be angry but do not sin,” this same verse is also translated as “be angry and do not sin.” What a difference a conjunction makes. The “but” made me nervous about where to draw the line between anger and sin. Yet the “and” makes me wonder if Paul is setting anger up as an imperative for a person of faith.
So what would it look like if we understood this verse to be a command—a call to action? What if God needs us to “be angry” in order to claim our faith heritage?
What if the next time we look around, we hold ourselves open to anger? When we see people who are falling through the cracks, the poor and ill in our communities, the ways that our power structures give preferential treatment to those who already have what they need, shouldn’t that make us angry?
While anger might not be sinful, fear is. Living in the world today, it’s awfully easy to be afraid. We talk and sing about God’s perfect love casting out fear, yet so many of us live steeped in fear. Fear does not pair well with courage. Fear makes us shrink, grow quiet and even roll into a little ball to avoid notice. Courage leads us to a place of movement, of growth, of bringing God’s kingdom to the world—however slow and small our process.
Cara Strickland writes about food, faith and life from her home in the Pacific Northwest. You can read more of her work at carastrickland.com.
This article appeared is excerpted from the September 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
Thank you. So often as I chose to not be calm and instantly forgiving by allowing anger about the injustice of any of a myriad of issues that can come up during a day spent among God’s best, least, and most of who we are to be heard. I hear any number of people respond with, “ but that’s not Christian.” We need space and compassion to be able to vent, release, refocus, and get back to being one of those God calls to do the real work of ministry. Anger does not negate any other emotion, but instead can blow like a clarifying wind to “see” the depth of issues.
Two days ago I read a FB post assigning “messages” to our more powerful negative emotions; anger was identified as a response to feeling powerless.
That resonates with me especially, as a woman. At age 68, there have thousands? tens of thousands? of times & situations when I was deservedly angry but swallowed it so quickly I didn’t even recognize it. I thought at first that this response was limited to women of my generation, but I recalled all those women I counseled in my supervisory position. I was much older, they were professionals as well as mothers of young families. When asked why certain procedures hadn’t been followed, or incidents reported, I was dismayed at the number of times the answer was, “I was afraid I would get in trouble.”
Fear of authority, fear of reprisal, fear of something as simple as someone getting angry, loud voices, angry, frightening actions. Women are still fearful of these things. My granddaughters are fearful of these things and their father is a gentle man. We swallow our anger, and many believe that suppressed, repressed anger is the source of depression ; anger turned inward.
Your words resonate. Your message is not only timely, but crucial. Anger IS an appropriate response to things beyond our control. Anger is how God programmed our brains to respond to threat 300 million years ago, so that we would have the adrenaline and other boosts of energy required to fight off or run from the threat. Anger is a “call to arms.” As civilized beings, and more importantly, as Christians, we are obligated to channel that energy to create positive change; to eliminate needless suffering, hunger, human trafficking, the list goes on and on.
I get righteously angry to recognize, and have to acknowledge, that my daughter-in-law is severely depressed, and I watch as she shies aways from any possibility of conflict, takes a submissive role to authority, & it hurts. I see my granddaughters unintentionally being taught that authority is to be obeyed & respected, always. I am teaching them to question authority. Be respectful, but never compromise themselves, their sense of what is right, or let anyone treat them badly. No one, including their parents, has the right to take their anger and frustration out on them in any way that’s truly frightening. They should never lose their dignity, nor let anyone outside immediate family treat them without respect. They may suffer all kinds of consequences for a breach of rules, but it will happen in a reasonable manner without fear, yelling, or ever, swearing. The Golden Rule prevails always for them. I am teaching them that anger is an appropriate response to threat and to injustice to them, but even more importantly, to others, and why, and how we use it as responsible, accountable Christian girls & women.
It is my fervent prayer that your awareness and discussion of anger begins a broader discussion, a groundswell of awareness in the ELCA. There is, I believe, the potential for a great deal of healing to occur in one hand, and an enormous powerhouse to be released for changes we champion; for all our missions, on the other. God bless you in all that you do.
I appreciate this article so much and look forward to discussing it along with our Bible Study tomorrow at Trinity, Las Cruces, NM. I also learned the Ephesians verse as “BUT do not sin” and love learning that most newer translations read “AND do not sin.” Anger can be a call to action!