By Francis Frangipane
The Problem With Anger
Unresolved anger can consume a soul; it can become a literal hell not only for the embittered person, but for those who live with them as well. Thus, Jesus strongly warned of anger's terrible impact. He said,
"The ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell" (Matt. 5:21-22).
Anger is a systemic poison: it affects every area of our existence. Not only can it destroy one's life on earth, it can make us "guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." Who among us has not known the wrestling in our minds over an offense? Who has never felt the unrelenting churning of wounded emotions or the self-destructive tension generated by anger?
For some, anger abides brooding, yet hidden, beneath a polite veneer. Like a vicious dog waiting behind the door of a nice home, so inner rage attacks without warning when anyone gets too close. Yet, as awful as anger is, the embittered person often feels anger is warranted in light of the threat of an offense. The worse evil, however, is the spirit of deception that justifies the angry soul, that presumes the anger of man is actually attaining the righteousness of God, thus imprisoning the embittered soul, isolating it from true repentance.
Jesus warns that unresolved anger is very grave. It threatens to drive the soul into hell; it is physically depleting, and the person carrying anger feels justified. According to Jesus, the angry person has, within his heart, committed a sin equal to murder. Anger is a very serious offense indeed.
Reconciliation Is More Important Than Ritual
If you know someone who is carrying unresolved anger toward you or someone else, Jesus tells us we are not to simply ignore their condition. In fact, He plainly tells us He expects us to do something about it. Remarkably, just after warning about anger's hellish consequences, in the very next verse He says,
"If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering" (v.23).
Jesus requires us to actually leave our offering, exit the "church service," and do what we can to reconcile with our offended brother. To the Son of God, reconciliation is more important than fulfilling our religious service.
The Lord knows that if we do not engage in some process toward healing, our offended brother will transfer his anger to others. Hebrews 12:14,15 says, "Pursue peace with all men . . . See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled." One angry person not only jeopardizes their own soul, but their root of bitterness can spread and "many be defiled."
Thus, when the church becomes a place of anger instead of redemption, it is not a little thing to the Lord. Indeed, Scripture says the final result is "many [are] defiled." Unresolved anger is actually a primary tool which Satan uses to break down marriages, destroy families, splinter churches and divide cultures within a community.
The Lord calls His church to reverse the curse of injustice and anger upon our society. We are heaven's agents of transformation and reconciliation. In fact, the Lord calls us not only to go to the one who, for whatever reason, may be offended by us, but He desires we actually become ministers of reconciliation who inspire others to bring healing to every strata of human relationships.
Wounded In Pursuit Of Oneness
When I speak of healing the riff between people, I realize there are some people who are habitually offended. No matter what we do, they are irreconcilable. Perhaps, in time, they will be more open. Still, the Lord commands us, "So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (Rom 12:18). Hebrews calls us to "pursue peace with all men" (Heb.12:14). According to Jesus Christ, if we remember someone has something against us, we are to actually leave our offering at the altar and go be reconciled with our brother (Matt. 5:24).
Our inter-personal relationships are a primary concern to the Lord. Remember, the issue is not limited to whether you have something against someone, but whether they have something against you. You may be completely innocent. The offended person may actually be the guilty party. But the Lord calls us to care about relationships. Indeed, it is amazing how often a simple phone call, an act of love or a gentle answer can soften the heart of an offended person.
The Bible says, "pursue peace with all men." "Pursue" means we aggressively take the initiative to make things right. It means we act on behalf of heaven rather than allow another's anger to serve the purpose of hell.
However, we must be realistic. When we reach out to a deeply offended person, they will likely be repulsed by our first efforts. Scripture tells us, "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle" (Prov. 18:19). If a person has been hurt, they will need trust to be restored and this process of initiating trust can actually be painful to both parties. A wounded person may lash out. You may feel like the process of restoring the offended person is simply too great a price to pay.
Let me share an insight I recently received from the Lord about the basic nature of relationships and reconciliation. My wife and I were bird-sitting our oldest daughter's pet conure. A conure is about half the size of a parrot with similar coloring. However, this creature was hostile. Each time I'd touch the cage, it would squawk and try to bite me. After several initiatives at being nice, I concluded, "Who needs this? If I'm going to be attacked, I can be attacked at church." I made a silent evaluation that we had been given a "killer conure." Obviously, I concluded, this bird came from the wrong side of the tracks.
My wife, however, decided she was going to love this bird. Even though it was just as aggressive toward her as it was with me, my wife relentlessly kept loving the bird. Each time she fed it by hand, the bird attacked, taking chunks of skin with each bite. Denise would yell in pain, then instantly return to talking softly, reaching into the cage with food. After a week, the bird finally began to relax. Her survival instincts, based on my wife's gentle response to being attacked, convinced the bird that Denise was not a predator, but a friend. Soon, it permitted Denise to reach into its cage without attacking her; a couple more days and I discovered this aggressive little finger-eater perched lovingly upon my wife's shoulder, its little round head snuggled warmly against her neck, cooing in her ear.
Denise won the heart of this little bird: it loved, because she first loved it. You see, the problem with the bird was not aggression, but fear. My wife allowed herself to be wounded so that trust could be established; when wounded, she did not retaliate, and she won its trust. As I watched this little drama unfold, I saw something basic, yet profound, concerning God's relationship with us. Trust is not an accident; it is the result of love that pays a price.
Isn't this the way of the Lord with our own hearts? He came to us, yet we wounded Him. We crucified God's Son. Yet instead of retaliating, Jesus forgave us. He proved over and over again that His love was safe, that He is not our enemy. We expect judgment but receive mercy; we sin, yet He works to restore us to Himself. It is His kindness, the Scriptures say, that lead us to repentance (Rom.2:4). He repeatedly shows Himself trustworthy, merciful and loving, knowing that, in time, we will come to rest in His goodness. And as we do, we let Him reach into our cage; we climb upon His hand, and He carries us on His shoulder.
I recognized that this attitude, which I saw in my wife, was actually the Lord's heart. As He has been to us, so He wants us to be toward others, even those who are hostile and alienated from us. Trust must be established before love can heal. We must be willing to let ourselves be wounded, even repeatedly if necessary, in pursuit of healing relationships. We must prove, not just in word, but in deed, that we are trustworthy. Whether we face divisions in families, churches or between races, only when trust is established, can healing begin.