Monday, March 02, 2009

Deadly Sins - Anger

For the next few days, I plan to discuss each of the Seven Deadly Sins. Because it is first in the list below, I will start with Anger. Note, for each of these sins, I will use, as a base, the Examination of Conscience found in Saint Augustine's Prayer Book (revised edition, 1967). That is the best resource I've found for an examination of conscience.

Many people confuse the sin of Anger with emotional anger and they make two mistakes. The first (and probably the most common) is to dismiss the sin of Anger by saying that you are simply experiencing the emotion and, after all, Jesus got angry and drove the money changers out of the temple. The second mistake is to refuse the emotion of anger and not deal with the causes - whether they are external or internal. This can cause significant emotional harm if done for some length of time. A person will often hide or swallow or ignore the anger and let it build until he lashes out at something rather minor - say getting cut off in traffic or having someone else take the parking spot you were waiting for first.

The sin of Anger is self-focused. It is open rebellion against God or other persons in order to remove obstacles (real or imagined) that come between our selves and our wills. It retaliates to any threat to our security, avenges insults and seeks redress of wrongs - normally in our favor.

There are different types of anger. Resentment is the refusal to discern, accept, or fulfill God's vocation for you. Resentment leads to dissatisfaction with your God-given talents, opportunities, or abilities. It can lead to unwillingness to face up to difficulties or sacrifices required by God to fulfill your vocation. Resentment leads to transferring blame to God, our parents, or families, our bosses or anyone else for the reasons behind our failures. Resentment shows itself in cynicism, profanity, grumbling and a desire to escape from reality.

Pugnacity is an attack upon another in anger. It can be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Murder by desire (and remember, that saying "you fool" or "raca" is murder by desire) or deed. Striking another, cursing another, insulting another, or damaging an other's reputation by words and deeds. Arguing, bickering, contradicting others to get your own point across, being rude or snubbing others are all forms of pugnacity. It is more than just hitting another, it is the desire or will to cause harm to others. It can be shown in praying for the ill of another person - even when in the form of praying to help others. One of Satan's favorite tricks with pugnacity is to rub the salt of injuries into your wounds even when you are on your knees. Does this sound familiar to anyone but me? "Dear God, please help XXX see the error of his ways. Let him know how much he hurt me by betraying me and lying to me. Let him seek your forgiveness for his sins."

Another form of Anger is Retaliation. It is vengeance (actual or planned) for wrongs real or imagined. It is giving excessive punishment out of a desire to hurt, not discipline. Hostility, sullenness, and rash judgment. Refusal to forgive or to offer or accept reconciliation. Unwillingness to love your enemies, to seek their good or to pray for them. Retaliation shows itself in ostracising others and getting others to join you in cutting someone off from the group to make you feel better. Putting others down so you can feel better about yourself. Refusing to join in the groups activities simply because you did not get your way. Feeling superior to others.

Now, how can we tell if we are experiencing the emotion of anger or the sin of anger. Close and honest examination is required. Normally if you are angry at a slight you have experienced, you are moving into the sin area. If you are angry at the plight of others, they you are probably not sinning as much.

Anger is a natural (fallen nature, of course, but still natural) emotion. We experience it all the time. What do we do about it? How can we stop at the emotion and not move into the sin?

The key to diminishing our anger is forgiveness. Refusal to take offense at the slights (real or imagined) and forgiving others when they do offend us is the best defense. When I am working in prison and discussing forgiveness with the inmates (and even team members) I always say that forgiveness is the easiest and hardest thing we will ever do. We often don't want to forgive. But God commands us to forgive and we ask to be forgiven in the same way we forgive others. Can you imagine how much trouble we would be in if God answered the Lord's Prayer "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" with "Yes, in the same way your forgive others, I will forgive you."

Forgiveness does not come naturally. It takes work and prayer. But it is also easy. All that God really requires us to do is say: "God, I am very angry at this person. I don't want to forgive him. But You ask me to and I want to be obedient to You. Please, Lord, help be to forgive. Help me to see XXX the same way you see him. Help me to love him as you love me."

During this period of Lent, make a list of all the people who make you angry. Write down their names. Then, pray the prayer above for each of them and offer them to God. Every day, ask for help in forgiving them. Ask God to take your anger and substitute His forgiveness and agape love.

Phil Snyder

The next sin - Pride (part 1)

1 comment:

Louise | Italy said...

This is a very thoughtful and useful post. I especially find interesting your breakdown of anger into different types. I never connected anger to resentment, for example, but now you mention it, I see a lot of things clicking into place. Thank-you.