Anger: Not a Godly Emotion
by Michael Roden
We all get angry at times. It’s only human nature. But I will attempt to show evidence in this essay that anger plays no part in the Divine nature.
It is a general principle of cognitive therapy that anger is a secondary emotion. Some other emotion or mood (such as depression) lurks behind it as its true cause. The anger is a result of this underlying emotion; it depends on this underlying emotion. Without this underlying emotion, anger would not exist.
Anger is a means of hiding a deeper vulnerability. We can see this clearly in children who, rather than wallow in or even acknowledge the feeling of sadness, tend immediately to become angry instead. Anger protects them (temporarily) from the more vulnerable feeling of sadness or weakness which is the real underlying problem.
Vulnerability might be termed by the biblical concept of fear, said to be the opposite of love in the First Letter of John:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)
Fear as the opposite of love in John’s philosophy would be the problem behind depression, anger, guilt, and even the existential frustration that accompanies living in the world. It is the sense of vulnerability that underlies all those feelings. And it is this vulnerable fear that we drive into the darkness of unconsciousness when we choose to become angry instead.
Love, on the other hand, is the emotion of God. It is accompanied by such positive and expansive feelings as appreciation, gratitude, joy and peace. God cannot fear; He can only love. In John’s philosophy, therefore, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16, my italics).
We see in the First Letter of John a clear binary opposition between these two major emotions: love and fear. All our thoughts and all our feelings boil down to one of these two emotions as their real basis. This binary opposition stands behind the imagery of the duality of light and darkness which is characteristic of John’s theology:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
God, having no vulnerability and no fear, cannot possibly have anger. It is tempting to think that He would, so that He might smite our enemies but, then again, Jesus taught us to have no enemies (Matt. 5:44). There is really no place for anger in the new thought system Jesus brings, which inspired John to this revelation of God as total love without any corresponding darkness.
This is also the message behind Jesus’ teaching on anger in Matt. 5:21-22, when he speaks of any trace of anger as being akin to murder. At the very least, we can glean from this that anger is not a mood that God inspires. We can imagine from this that God is always in complete control and that we might think of Him as being utterly reasonable, calm, and loving at all times and for all eternity.
In the Book of Isaiah (27:4), God is depicted as saying: “I have no wrath.” This would mean of course that He has no rage, no anger. Such a statement dovetails perfectly with John’s argument that God does not think in terms of punishment because God, being perfect love, can have no fear. Having no fear, God has no use for either punishment or anger. Therefore neither anger nor fear nor punishment exist for God.
Because neither fear nor anger can coexist with love, the two can only alternate in our minds, which gives humankind its seemingly natural and characteristic ambivalence. (First we are one way, and then the other.) God does not share our ambivalence, and so it is our own problem, and our own responsibility.
When we are reasonable, we can think of anger differently, more objectively. But we cannot be reasonable when we are angry. Anger is associated with irrationality as well as vulnerability. There is an apocryphal passage which makes this point beautifully, telling how Moses used reason to quell his own anger:
When Moses was angry with Dathan and Abiram he did nothing against them in anger, but controlled his anger by reason. For, as I have said, the temperate mind is able to get the better of the emotions, to correct some, and to render others powerless. Why else did Jacob, our most wise father, censure the households of Simeon and Levi for their irrational slaughter of the entire tribe of the Shechemites, saying,’Cursed be their anger’? For if reason could not control anger, he would not have spoken thus. (4 Macc. 2:17-20)
This reads much like modern therapeutic advice. The key is to gain some rational control over those moods, feelings, and thoughts that tend to make us most irrational, and then to use this measure of control to prevent anger from rearing its ugly head. Such an interpretation is suggested by Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness as well.
Ultimately one learns to trust one’s inner guidance, the still small voice left unheard by our anger, whether one calls this the the higher Self, the Holy Spirit, the inner Christ, or the Voice of God Himself. Until then we have the good advice: “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26), which reminds us not to carry anger as a burden from one day into the next. We might reason from this that it would be better not to carry this burden even into the next moment. The very next moment could be a transformative one, if we were not locked into irrational habitual behaviors born from an unconscious sense of vulnerability.
Copyright 2015 by Michael Roden.
This blog was part of synchroblog on anger. The other articles: