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.