Faith Column: Trying to find balance
When we overreact, the first thing that often goes is our temper. The thing that upsets us sends us into a tailspin. Our nerves get strained. We don’t mean to. It just happens. There is only so much we can take before we explode in anger and rage.
I can think of at least two times in scripture when someone had an appropriate angry reaction. The first time is when Jesus sees people being defrauded in the temple. They have come to bring sacrifices but instead of having their offerings approved they are being bilked out of their sacrifices. The priests claim there is a problem with the sacrifice, buy it off one pilgrim at a discount and then sell it at a markup to another pilgrim. Jesus gets angry and overturns the tables.
The other is a when a Levite and his wife are assaulted in the book of Judges. She is murdered. His reaction is understandably angry—however he goes a little over the top with what comes next. It is not a PG-13 outcome. Nor are the rest of the members of his tribe much better. They band together and kill almost every adult male in the tribe that killed her, until that tribe is in danger of being wiped out. Then completely innocent men and women are lured to a party, where the innocent men are killed, and their women are kidnapped and forced to become wives for the survivors of the tribe. This is a miserable sounding story the whole way around.
Anger itself is not the problem, it is what we do with it. Where Jesus keeps his focused and intent on solving the problem. The Levites and their anger spirals out of control until too many innocent people’s lives are ruined. The difference between appropriate anger and inappropriate anger between appropriate reaction and overreaction is scale and intention.
In 1981, Audre Lorde wrote this:
“For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth (“The Uses of Anger,” Women’s Studies Quarterly, 9:3, p. 9).”
Too often we think of anger as a negative force, but Lorde sees it as a force of life. In fact, throughout her essay, she returns again and again to the metaphor of birth, anger she says brings life to those who had faced death. Anger not only frees, but it brings to life something new and completely unlooked for. She sees anger especially anger freed from its frequent association with violence as something that can change the world. She believes that anger when used by creative people can generate new ways of being.
To see anger as wholly evil is to associate it with overreaction. God on the other hand has redemptive purposes even for anger. Anger can create new paths to life.
When you become angry in an out-of-control situation, you are not necessarily doing anything wrong. This is an appropriate use of anger. It, however, is a place where overreaction is easily possible. Remember the servants in the parable of the wheat and the weeds. They know the weeds are bad, dangerous. The poison can kill people, and it has to be gotten out of the field. However, their reaction is over the top. It is the sledgehammer to crack an egg solution. You have eggshell in your omelet and no way to get it out.
For many people, especially people who have been raised in situations where they have little control this is not an uncommon reaction. They will overreact when what little control they have seems about to be taken away. Their anger will spiral up and out without meaning too. The anger isn’t a problem, it is that the person doesn’t have good tools to manage it.
Finally, there is the anger that fuels prophets and fueled Jesus’ act in the temple. It will turn over the scales of injustice. It will step out into streets and march with people who are mistreated. It will step in front of tanks and stand resolute in the face of prison. It is an anger that looks very much like love, for it is in fact the second side of love.
Sometimes the balance is hard to find. We may spend a lifetime trying to find it, seeking to balance our own anger and God’s goodness. Many pray Reinhold Niehbur’s prayer seeking this balance. Take his words with you this week:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
“Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as [Christ] did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that [Christ] will make all things right if I surrender to [God’s] Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with [God] forever in the next. Amen.”
Rev. Deana Armstrong is the Pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, Craig. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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