The early church fathers said there were seven deadly sins. High up on their list they placed the sin of anger. In fact, it was second only to the sin of pride.
Today we need to ask ourselves, “What makes us angry?” Think about the things that made you mad this past week. What were they? A car on the highway that cut into your lane? A rude clerk at the department store? Having to stand in line a little longer than you thought necessary? A phone call that interrupted your evening meal from someone trying to sell you something you did not want? All such things are inconvenient and can be terribly exasperating.
Often these days we read about a man riding in one car who shot to death a man riding in another car. Apparently the two were total strangers. Police were speculating that the shooting was in response to a driving altercation that may have occurred a few moments earlier. If that is true, it is a clear example of what the church fathers meant when they called anger a deadly sin.
So be careful about the things which you allow to make your angry. And then be doubly careful about the way in which you express that emotion. Outbursts of uncontrolled rage may be understood in the lives of small children, but have no rightful place in the lives of adults. Some people seek to justify their explosive anger with the explanation that it blows over very quickly. Perhaps it does. So does a tornado, but often it leaves behind a trail of destruction that must be repaired after the storm has passed. That kind of anger is a deadly sin.
But can anger also be a virtue? If so, then at what point? We have an answer to that question in the example of Jesus as we see it revealed on the pages of the gospels.
First, His anger was never provoked by some personal wrong done to Him. Even when they spat upon Him, mocked Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him, He did not respond with one angry word. Instead, He prayed for His tormentors, just as He had taught His disciples to do.
Is it unrealistic to expect you and me and others like us to be free of all personal resentment? Perhaps, but at least we should know who and what our example is. Personal resentment and being Christ–like are opposing traits of character. The more we have of one, the less we have of the other.
The other thing that can be said about His anger is a positive statement – it was always rooted in His love for people. In Jesus’ scale of values, it was the people who were sacred. His love for people would not let Him stand by quietly and watch people be abused.
Where then is the place for this kind of anger in your life? People are not through abusing people, not by a long shot. But the teaching and example of Christ could be summed up like this: In our own personal lives, we should be ready to accept and forgive almost anything. Not that we should be doormats. Jesus wasn’t that. But neither did He waste His emotional energy resenting every wrong done to Him. He turned the other cheek, and so should we. But when other people get walked on, then it is time to get mad. That’s when anger ceases to be deadly and becomes a living virtue.