Christians often struggle with even the idea of anger. Many of us believe that a “good Christian” isn’t ever supposed to get angry. Of course, we recognize that Jesus, himself, sometimes got angry (cf. Mt 21:12 and Mt 23:33) but even so, it’s often hard to figure out what God wants us to do with our anger.
In his Theology of the Body, St John Paul the Great reminds us that every part of our bodies were created to work for our own and other’s good. That includes anger, which is rooted in the body and was created by God to help us see and respond to the injustices in our lives. Sure, there are a lot of unhealthy ways to respond to those injustices, but that isn’t anger’s fault! That comes from allowing our anger to become disconnected from grace. In fact, the Catechism tells us that anger is neither good nor bad on its own. Whether anger is righteous or sinful, has to do with whether we are angry about the right things, in the right ways, and to the right ends (CCC#1772).
How can we make sure we express our anger this way? Fortunately, there is an APP for that. Namely, we need to check to be sure we’re making an appropriate, proportionate, and productive response to the offense we’ve experienced.
1. Appropriate—This is the quality that helps me make sure there is really something to be angry about in the first place. For instance, if a friend lovingly tells me that I have hurt them, I might feel angry, but do I have a right to be angry? In this case, no. They are working for the good of our relationship and addressing their concerns respectfully. If I respond in anger, I am rebuffing my friend’s attempt to heal our relationship.
Or what if somebody hurts my feelings. Is it appropriate to lash out at them before I’ve checked to see what their intentions really were? What if they simply misspoke? What if I misunderstood what they were trying to say or do? Asking if my anger is appropriate enables me to make sure I understand the nature of the perceived offense—or check if there really was an offense in the first place—before starting WWIII.
2. Proportionate—Speaking of WWIII, it’s important that my anger be proportionate. In other words, I have to ask myself, “How much anger do I need to express to get the ball rolling on a real solution?” For instance, if I can address an offense with you by simply talking to about it, then doing anything more than that is disproportionate and will likely damage our relationship even if it “solves” the immediate problem. Likewise, if my gentle attempts to address an offense are ignored, that may justify me making a little more noise about it, not for the sake of venting my spleen, but so that a real problem that is causing damage to the Body of Christ can be addressed and healed. Proportionality allows me to make sure that my anger solves problems without causing (or ignoring) other problems.
3. Productive—I need to express my anger in ways that actually do some good; to heal an injury or correct an injustice, or insist that we gather whatever resources will help us make sure that the problem doesn’t happen again. Blowing up and then pretending “everything’s fine” now that I have emotionally vomited all over you is not productive. It does nothing to heal the original hurt or make sure it doesn’t happen again. In fact, it causes even more problems.
When anger is expressed in ways that are inappropriate, disproportionate, and unproductive, then I may be guilty of the sin of wrath. As I point out in my book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart wrath is a distortion of the godly desire for justice and causes me to respond to a bad situation in a way that makes it much worse.
When we feel angry, the first thing we need to do—before addressing it with anyone else—is to bring it to God and ask, “Lord, help me respond to this problem in a way that is appropriate, proportionate, and productive so I can fix the problem and bring real healing to this relationship.”
Don’t be afraid of your anger. Just let God teach you how to use his anger APP, and respond to anger in appropriate, proportionate, and productive ways.