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How to Handle the Rising Rage Epidemic
The Wired Word for the Week of October 24, 2021

In the News

Have you noticed how angry people seem to be these days? Multiple studies have been tracking what some describe as an epidemic of rage, exacerbated by tensions during a global pandemic. Several segments of society have noted escalating verbal, psychological and physical abuse. The airline industry is struggling to handle a historic rise in angry passengers; restaurant employees have been assaulted by customers who object to safety measures meant to keep everyone safe; school board members, teachers and administrators are threatened by unhappy parents, whatever policies they support or oppose. 

According to a recent National Nurses United union survey, 31% of hospital nurses have reported an increase/escalation in patient aggression, up from 22% in March 2021. An American Nurses Association 2019 survey showed that 1 in 4 nurses is physically assaulted on the job.

Anger might be triggered by physical factors such as pain, hormonal imbalances, lack of sleep, hunger or substance abuse; other triggers for anger include mental illness, legal or financial problems, racial unrest, social isolation, political hostility, family stresses, traumatic events, injustice, the sense that the social order is unraveling, abandonment and other factors.

According to the November 2018 NPR-IBM Watson Health poll, some 84% of people surveyed said Americans are angrier today compared with a generation ago; 42% of those polled admitted that they themselves were angrier in the past year than they had been further back in time.

James Averill, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, discovered in his studies that “Most people report becoming mildly to moderately angry anywhere from several times a day to several times a week.” But surprisingly, in most cases, expressing their anger led to reduced tensions, as those involved became “more willing to listen, more inclined to speak honestly, more accommodating of each other’s complaints.” In addition, “anger … forc[es] us to … confront problems we might otherwise avoid [and] … motivates us to undertake difficult tasks.”

David H. Rosmarin, Harvard professor of psychology, says that anger is often a secondary emotion that is actually a reaction to a primary emotion such as fear, sadness, frustration or confusion. Because we don’t like those feelings, we may skip over them and jump right to anger. So instead of saying we are afraid that we or someone we love might die of the virus, or that we might be losing our constitutional rights, or that our children might suffer if they have to do another year of remote learning, we might yell in anger at Joe Blow in the street for wearing (or not wearing) a mask.

Rosmarin writes that it is easier to blame others and to demand that they fix our problem, rather than to admit that we are struggling and need help. 

“All human beings need to have connection with others, but we go into anger or attack mode as a way of defending ourselves. When we’re aggressive, we don’t have to show vulnerability to other people.” It’s too scary to admit weakness, because we think that gives other people power over us, Rosmarin states. 

Peggy Smith, an expert in nonviolent communication, concurred: “It’s not about anger — it’s about fear. We’ve been taught to be afraid of being vulnerable, but our actual strength is being able to own and express our own vulnerability.”

“When we can accept and express [our weakness] to the people around us we increase the chances of getting their love and support,” said Rosmarin, adding, ” and we can thrive even in this challenging time.”

More on this story can be found at these links:

Nurses Say Patients Are Getting More Abusive, and Simple Questions Can Set Them Off. Yahoo News
Why Am I So Angry for No Reason? Medicinenet.com
The Real Roots of American Rage. The Atlantic
Soothing Advice for Mad America. The Harvard Gazette
Is Our Society Getting Increasingly Angry? Psychology Today

Applying the News Story 

We all feel anger at times. Such emotions are human and normal. How we handle those feelings determines whether they result in helpful or negative consequences. We can’t begin to cover everything the Bible teaches about anger in one TWW lesson, but will briefly address the anger of God, Jesus’ anger, human anger that leads to sin, and how we can be angry without sinning.

The Big Questions

1. How have you seen anger expressed recently? Were you angrier in the past year?

2. What do you think is at the root of anger? Why do people get angry?

3. Is the Christian faith more of a help or more of a hindrance in developing and maintaining constructive interpersonal relationships that are not characterized by an inordinate amount of anger? Explain.

4. What is righteous versus unrighteous anger? 

5. What does the anger of God look like?

Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:

Exodus 34:6-7
“The LORD, the LORD,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,

and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.” (For context, read Exodus 34:1-9.)
Psalm 7:6, 11
Rise up, O LORD, in your anger;
    lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
    awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment. …
God is a righteous judge,

    and a God who has indignation every day. (For context, read Psalm 7:1-17.)

It is tempting to think of God in simplistic terms: either as a God of love who is incapable of anger, or as a God of wrath who is incapable of love. But what we see in the Exodus text and in the whole of scripture is a much more complex picture of a God whose righteous anger against evil is the flip side of his love. 

While we often think of judging in negative terms, as a synonym for condemnation, in Psalm 7, as in the rest of the Bible, judging is frequently associated with God’s bringing justice to those who are innocent, victimized and oppressed. The CEB version renders verse 11 this way: “God is a righteous judge, a God who is angry at evil every single day,” with the footnote that the words “at evil” are not in the original Hebrew text, but are explanatory in nature. In the context of the courtroom of God’s justice, we see that God directs his anger at destructive evil, punishing those who attack, bully and defraud the defenseless.

Human anger, on the other hand, is often misplaced, directed at easily targeted scapegoats rather than at the truly culpable. In addition, humans often get angry about much less worthy matters: We become irritated over unintended offenses, inconsequential slights and violations of what we believe to be our rights. In our zeal to punish whoever we hold responsible, we often seek revenge, desiring not only “to be made whole again,” but to be enriched above our previous circumstances, at the expense of the offender.

The Bible tells us that God is not unjust in the way he expresses anger, but is laser-focused on bringing the actual perpetrator to justice, crafting punishment to fit offenses, and setting things right. That’s why Paul advises us not to act on our anger by seeking revenge, but to “leave room for God’s wrath” (Romans 12:19). God is much more capable of executing justice than we are.

Questions: When you first learned about God, was there a greater emphasis on the wrath of God, the love of God, or something else? How did those early teachings impact you and your spiritual development? 

Why is it important for us to wrestle with both aspects of God’s actions: his anger and his love? How do those traits fit together? What do you still wonder about with regard to these traits? 

Mark 3:4-6
Then [Jesus] said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (For context, read Mark 3:1-6.)

On one Sabbath day, Jesus found a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. Jesus’ enemies watched to see whether he would cure the man on the Sabbath, in which case, they could accuse Jesus of violating rules against working on the Sabbath. 

Knowing his enemies would try to use it against him if he did what he thought was right, Jesus nevertheless immediately and publicly healed the man with the withered hand. He didn’t hide what he was going to do to protect himself from the wrath of his opponents.

Questions: Why do you think the religious leaders refused to answer Jesus’ question? What was at the root of the anger of the religious leaders, and to what did their anger lead?

What was behind Jesus’ anger? How did he handle his anger? What did his actions cost him? What can we learn from his example about how to handle our own feelings of anger?

Genesis 4:6-7
The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (For context, read Genesis 4:1-16.)

It didn’t take long before anger led to violence in the course of human history. God accepted Abel’s offering, but had no regard for that of Abel’s brother Cain. “So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.”

In this incident, we see how dangerous anger can be when it is not mastered and controlled. God urged Cain to examine the reason for his anger, to put it aside, and to master it. God’s counsel to Cain reminds us that we are not helpless against our passions, but if we do not master them, they can master us. God assured Cain that he would be accepted if he did what was right, but Cain wouldn’t listen. Instead, he turned his anger at God against his brother, and murdered him. 

We may feel that we have no choice but to act on our fury, and that it is impossible to obey the biblical command, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Elsewhere, Paul advises believers to “live [and be guided] by the Spirit” and not to “gratify the desires of the flesh” that are “opposed to the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16-18, 24-25). 

Before us we see two ways of living: the easy path of surrender to our rage, or the hard road of dying to the right to revenge. Jesus acknowledges that many take the easy road, which leads to destruction, and few follow the hard path to life (Matthew 7:13-14). But the choice is ours to make. As we learn to open ourselves up for Christ to live his life in and through us, we can increasingly share in his victory over sin, including over the kind of anger that leads to sin (Galatians 2:19-20). 

In another case, God invited Jonah to a season of self-examination when the prophet became very angry that God was showing mercy to the Ninevites (Jonah 4:1-11). Jonah complained that he hadn’t wanted to preach to the Ninevites in the first place, since he knew that God was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” Always the drama queen, Jonah asked God to just put him out of his misery and let him die, rather than make him watch his enemies enjoy the forgiveness and mercy of God.

But God questioned Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

But Jonah refused to answer, storming out of the city in a huff. And God caused a bush to grow up over Jonah to give him shade in the heat of the day. But the next day God caused a worm to attack the bush, so that it withered. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head, so he wanted to die. 

Again God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” 

This time Jonah answered, to justify his right to be angry. 

If you have the right to be angry about a bush you didn’t create or plant, God said, don’t I have the right to be concerned about the 120,000 souls and many animals in Nineveh, whom I did create?

Questions: Why do people hold on to grudges? What does clinging to anger do for people? Why did Cain cling to his rage? Why did Jonah hold on to his anger?

What harm does allowing anger to simmer do to the angry person? To those around him?

How do you imagine the story of Jonah ended? Did Jonah persist in his resentment against God for showing mercy to his enemies? Did God honor his request to let him die? Did Jonah have an “Aha!” moment and give up his anger and desire for God to punish the Ninevites? Or is there another way the story might have ended?

Ephesians 4:26-27
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. (For context, read Ephesians 4:25-32.)

While misplaced and uncontrolled anger can cause much harm, the emotion of anger is actually a gift from God. When rightly used, anger toward injustice can be a reflection of God’s heart for the poor among us. Righteous anger should be stirred in our hearts when we see harm done to the vulnerable. This kind of anger, managed wisely, can become a catalyst for change, so that God’s will may be done more perfectly “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Paul’s language here is very strong: He actually commands the Ephesians to be angry. That positive imperative is balanced by the triple negative imperative, as if to stress the importance of guardrails to protect us from the danger of abusing anger for selfish ends.

1. Do not sin
2. Do not let the sun go down on your anger
3. Do not make room for the devil 

Questions: What is the difference between being angry without sin, and anger that leads to sin?

How can we “not let the sun set on our anger” if the cause of our anger remains?

How might anger “make room” for the devil (give the devil a toehold or beachhead)? How can we avoid that danger?

How can we make it more likely that our anger results in actions that cause people to rejoice and give thanks to God?

For Further Discussion

 1. Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have noted “Anger is one letter short of danger.” Think of an example that illustrates this.  

2. What do you think theologian Lyman Abbott meant when he said this? “Do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry.”

3. “Anger is a boomerang,” wrote author Karen Salmansohn. Explain.

4. According to writer James Pierce, “Everyone asks how to deal with anger when it arises. No one asks how to prevent anger from arising.” How are these two statements different? What does our faith teach us about prevention of anger?

5. Think about this: Refuse to pay attention to aggressive acts. Don’t amplify angry outbursts in social media by sharing them. Don’t add fuel to a forest fire.

6. Think about how you might implement this in your own interactions with others:

 Three “R’s” of Handling Anger God’s Way

Refrain from anger and restrain it 

  • Psalm 37:8 “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.”
  • Proverbs 29:11 “A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back.”
  • That doesn’t mean bury your anger, but control whether, when and how you express it. Manage your anger, or your anger will manage you.

Reassess what happened that led to your feeling angry

  • James 1:19-20 “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”
  • God is slow to anger. As children of God, we should aspire to be like him in this quality. Ask the Spirit of God to produce the fruit of self-control in you, so that you don’t fly off the handle at the drop of a hat. You don’t need to take offense at every little thing, especially since more often than not, no offense was intended.

Release anger and the need to take revenge

  • Colossians 3:8 “But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.”
  • Ephesians 4:31 “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.”
  • Feeling anger may be appropriate at times. But we need to vent our anger safely, without causing harm to others, and release our anger to God. Holding on to anger can lead to sin, and can harm yourself, others, and your Christian witness.

Responding to the News

1. Consider committing this quotation from the philosopher, Aristotle, to memory, to use as a guide when anger threatens to cloud your mind: “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

2. When you experience anger, ask yourself the kind of questions God asked Cain and Jonah: Why are you angry? Is it right for you to be angry? What is the purpose of your anger? How can you master your anger, so that it is transformed into energy for good rather than evil? 

Prayer suggested by Proverbs 14:17, 29; 15:18; 16:29; 19:11; 22:24; 29:11, 22; Romans 12:21

Teach us, O God, how to keep cool when provoked, exercising patience and self-control so that we can think wisely and creatively about how to handle stress calmly, after the heat of the moment has passed.

Help us, O God, to choose our associates wisely, avoiding those who are hot-tempered and easily angered, so we are not tempted to adopt their dangerous pattern of behavior.

Help us to choose your way of handling anger, rather than our own, so that we might conquer harmful impulses by doing good. 

In the name of Christ, who showed us how to use anger for good rather than evil. Amen.

 

 

Copyright 2021 Communication Resources

 

  

In class, we will talk about some of these passages and look for some insight into the big questions, as well as talk about other questions you may have about this topic. Please join us.