My Anger and the Commands that Become Promises

Tell Me to Take a Chill Pill and I’ll Probably Do the Opposite

Will Ryan / 8.10.21

Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. (Eph 4:31-32)

When I was growing up, my brother and I would get into horrible fights. I don’t mean yell and scream at each other fights or even throw their stuff out the window fight. I mean hair-grabbing, eye-gouging, finger-biting fights ending with black eyes and bloody lips. One Christmas Eve night, my parents rushed me to the ER because my brother had pushed me into and through a glass coffee table. This was only too typical. 

It was safe to say my brother knew how to push my buttons. It’s also safe to say that I had a temper. Siblings tend to easily identify your vulnerabilities and how to exploit them. There was one particular phrase that always made my blood boil. If he was bored and wanted some mild form of entertainment or if he was just being an older brother and picking on his younger brother, he would dig at me and then utter the phrase, “take a chill pill, Will!” 10/10 I would fly into a rage. 

I’m not a kid anymore and have learned some helpful tools to manage my anger — and by that I mean counseling, of course. Walking away from provocation does wonders. More so than counting to three:

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a temper and my brother still can (and does) push my buttons. Only last year I broke a Sand Wedge over my knee during family golf trip (of course I was goaded into by my brother). This temper of mine is something I continue to have to live with (along with a brother who likes to tease me every once in a while!)

When the apostle Paul writes about anger, it’s not just bad or unproductive or mean, but evil. Anger isn’t a fruit of the Spirit, but antithetical to life patterned after the grace and mercy of Christ, a life lived after being reconciled to God. In an age where anger seems to reign supreme (the social media posts liked, commented on, and shared are always ones that play to people’s anger), Paul’s writing seems a little out of step. 

For the life of a Christian, Paul says there’s no such thing as “righteous anger.” Anger is never productive. It never gives life. It never forgives. It never is never loving. As such, it has no place in the lives of those who have been redeemed and reconciled by the cross, living the dual love commandment (love neighbor and love God) out of gratitude for what’s been done for them. Anger is sin, in other words.

But I still get mad! Try as I might, my buttons still get pushed (thanks, Bro!). On one side is what I know I should or shouldn’t do, on the other is what I actually do, and in between is a gorge as wide as the Grand Canyon. There is a disconnect between our rational beliefs and emotional lives that cannot be remedied by more instruction. I do the evil that I do not want to do and the Law (or in this instance St. Paul telling me to take a “chill pill”) might actually make things worse (Rom 7). 

My anger is not just a character flaw, but a manifestation of Sin. That doesn’t let me off the hook, though, I’m still the one getting angry, still sinning. It’s an instance of my being “Simul justus et peccator,” a saint and a sinner at the same time. I don’t want to get angry. Having been forgiven by God, I know I should imitate Christ by being kind, compassionate, and forgiving. But in the gospel, the demands of the law are not fulfilled, but become more like a promise for the future. Gerhard Forde puts it this way:

The radical nature of the divine imputation brings a death and resurrection […] begins to kindle the first beginnings of actual hope and love where before there had been only hypocrisy and despair. For then the great commandment, ‘Thou shalt love…’ begins to become a reality. It begins to sound not just as a demand, a law, but as a promise: ‘You shall love, you will love one day, for I love you unconditionally. One day the last barrier will fall and you will be mine completely! You can bet your life on it!’

If anger is something that I have to manage, there will be a day when all the strategies and tools will be unnecessary. The brightness of that future illuminates and guides the present. I can keep my anger in check because I know one day I won’t be angry anymore. It also helps me forgive my brother whenever he tells me to take a chill pill. He knows what he’s doing.

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