Anger, Forgiveness, and Prayer, pt 1

Some thoughts:


First: anger is part of how we’re wired.  God gave us these strong, sometimes negative emotions–anger, sadness, fear, etc.  The problem isn’t that we’re feeling something sinful, bad, or wrong when we feel them, the problem is that we frequently don’t handle them, process them, the way God intends for us to process them.

Ephesians 4.26 quotes Psalm 4; “‘Be angry, but do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry.”  Do you see it?  It’s not the anger that’s the problem, it’s letting it simmer, letting it go unprocessed.

So: when someone has wronged you, or someone has wronged others, it is perfectly normal for anger be part of your response. Just process it, don’t let it fester.

Second: unprocessed anger will wreck your life.  Unprocessed anger usually = a lack of forgiveness toward others.  The destructive power of unforgiveness is the reason that the New Testament writers, including the words of Jesus himself, keep linking our forgiveness of others with our own forgiveness from God:

  • “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. … For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6.12, 14-15)
  • “… forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4.32)
  • “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3.13)

The devastating effects of unforgiveness are proverbial.

  • “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” is a widely disseminated saying in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups.
  • “Forgiveness doesn’t erase the past, but it unshackles the future,” is a more positive version, one I heard from James Dobson.

Third: unprocessed anger cripples you spiritually.  I paraphrased Richard Rohr the other day, that angry people cannot pray, angry people cannot practice the presence of God.  (The quote I was thinking of was from his interview with The Liturgists, where he said “Angry people can’t be mystics.”)  This has certainly been my experience.

Jesus himself alludes to this in Matt 5.23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

And Peter alludes to the way our horizontal relationships affect our prayers: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Pet 3.7)  Leaving aside the questions raised by “weaker partner,” the point is clear: disharmony in our horizontal relationships negatively affects our relationship with God.

So how do we handle our anger?  How do we forgive people who have hurt us?  How do we find health and restoration in this area?  That’s my next post.

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