But I will give you a personal example for our next deadly sin: anger. On Saturday we took the boys to their first college football game. It was thirty-five degrees, but other than Sam's refusal to wear his mittens, we all had a blast. Sam danced to every ditty of the marching band, and the older boys screamed and cheered for every first down. It was just a very, very fun day. We bought the boys foam cavaliers and hats and t-shirts. We ate stadium food and sipped hot chocolate. I mean it was an all-out good time. But later when I was putting the boys to bed, our oldest son, Will, was unhappy. Really unhappy. He complained that he wasn't tired. He complained that it wasn't fair. I was sort of taken aback my his ingratitude but reminded myself that despite his stature, he is only seven years old. But then as he was brushing his teeth, and I was sitting on the floor, putting Sammy in his pajamas, Will called over to me with a deadly serious look on his face, utilizing a condescending and emphatic tone.
"Let me be clear!" he said.
I was instantaneously livid, and I imagine many of you can sympathize. Since "it is not the impulse of anger but the way we handle it that turns into sin," you might want to know how I handled it? (Dunnam and Reisman).
"Get over here," I snapped, using an even angrier voice than Will had used. Then I cupped his little face in my hand and said, "Don't you EVER, EVER talk to me that way again. Do you understand?"
So whatever it was that he wanted to be clear about is yet a mystery! But here are some of the problems with how I handled this situation: (1) I raised my voice; and (2) I was acting more out of personal hurt and wounded pride than I was acting to teach my son an important lesson about respect and gratitude. And that's really one of the major problems with anger. As much as we may think our anger is justified, our motives are never pure--our own self-interest is always there to mar the righteousness of our indignation.
But consider Jesus and how He cleared the moneygrubbers out of the temple. He didn't use his disciples as a swat team and He didn't use his power as Creator of the Universe. Isn't it kind of amazing that He was able to send them running with a whip of cords? Dunnam and Reisman observed that, "It was not his physical strength, but his moral power. The moral force of Jesus' anger against their wrongdoing sent them scrambling from the temple." But that doesn't work for us mere mortals because we cannot attain the moral authority. Nearly all of our anger is tainted by our own self-interest. Jesus was angry because his Father's house was being defiled. If we want to emulate Jesus we will be angry about things which violate God's law, but aren't harmful to us personally. We can be righteously indignant about the mistreatment of others: about human trafficking, slavery and child prostitution, and I hope you are. (One great organization to give to on this is The International Justice Mission www.ijm.org). And certainly there are examples closer to home as well, but my main point is that we try to justify our own outbursts as righteous anger, but really we are kidding ourselves.
Instead the Bible issues many warnings about anger. A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11). An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22). Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22: 24-25) [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)
So even though I'm not usually much of a hothead, I now realize I've been misconstruing the real issue. If we look at ourselves honestly and with the right standard -- provided by Jesus himself -- I think we all have some tendency toward anger. So what's the cure? C.S. Lewis said, "The surest means of disarming an anger...[is to] start examining the passion itself," and Dunnam and Reisman suggest exploring what your feelings of anger really tell you about yourself. These are good starting points. You can also meditate on the verses above, and like everything else in life, you can pray about it.
In closing, here is a great thought to consider: "The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry." (author unknown).
I hope that you are spurred, as I am, to make sure that thing is not small.