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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Anger (01/24/05)

TITLE: The Ends of Anger
By Neill Jeffrey


In predawn darkness in medieval Sweden, a man wrestles furiously with a sturdy sapling, pitting the power of his rage against the young tree as he acts out his anger at the violation of his beloved daughter’s innocence. He is possessed by the knowledge that she has been raped and murdered by his three guests. He bends the sapling and finally breaks it with the violence of his wrath. This image of anger is from Ingmar Bergman’s film “Virgin Spring,” made in 1959. The father’s demonstrated fury would be as far as a Christian could go, if he truly believed that vengeance is the Lord’s, but in Bergman’s powerful movie the father dons his leather slaughtering garb and avenges his daughter’s death. That might seem fitting in a tribal justice way, but that is not the Christian way, exemplified for us in the suffering of our Savior. “Forgive them, Father.”

The emotion of anger is natural, though it was once considered to be one of the seven deadly sins. What matters is the effect of our anger, and to what end we use it. My focus here is not on those who indulge themselves all the anger they can manage (and more), but on how Christians might view their own anger.

William Blake’s poem, “A Poison Tree,” distinguishes between anger toward friend and foe:

“I was angry with my friend,
I told him of my wrath, my wrath did end.”

On the other hand, the narrator keeps his anger toward his foe to himself. His wrath grows a poisonous apple that the enemy covets, steals and eats. The poem reflects opposite ways of handling anger; with honesty toward the friend, and with deceit toward the foe. Marriage counselors advise couples to communicate their anger, to keep the air clear and resolve issues. Frustration and misunderstanding need not ripen into poisonous apples of wrath. Anger should not lead us to take an eye for an eye. As Christians, we have a commandment and a commitment to love that supersedes our angry urges. We must be long-tempered to stand back from our own emotions, but if we do not embrace the egotism of our anger, the love of our Lord can free us from it.

Anger can be can be righteous, as when Moses returned from the mountain and was outraged by his people’s corruption. Anger can also seem justified, but futile, as in response to our child being harmed by another’s unprovoked attack. If the attacker is a child, who can we blame, in our burning anger? The aggressive child? The unobservant supervisor? The other child’s irresponsible parents? To what end does it make any sense to be angry, in such cases? Break a tree.

I noticed some moments of anger that I went through yesterday occurred in response to some verbal abuse that I considered unfair and unjust. I felt I was being subjected to “the leaden rule,” whereby someone treats others as they would not want to be treated themselves. If we are falsely accused, misjudged and disgraced, how can we not feel angry, even if we feel lousy about feeling that anger? We desire to be treated fairly, but when we are provoked, we must see the injustice as a misunderstanding. “They know not what they do.”

We might feel our anger is actively evoked by the other, as though they are asking for it, and our emotion is merely another instrument of their animosity. That is the touch of one hand slapping. We must take it, on both cheeks, with forbearance. In the end, they will get what they deserve, but they do not in themselves deserve our anger. We owe them the sincerest form of pity: forgiveness.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Marina Rojas02/01/05
This was a classy look at what our anger should result in.
Sally Hanan02/06/05
Very good with lots of good choices of examples.