“Why Do I Keep Getting Angry?”

ANGER HAS BEEN MY go-to emotion for most of my life. At times my anger is focused inward, upset that I cannot let things go. Too often it’s focused outward. Although I have little patience for incidents of road rage, I seem to cave to it far too often when behind the wheel. Just today, I was driving my mother’s car when I came to an intersection where two other cars had stopped. When the person who had the right of way didn’t go, but just sat there, I began cursing at them. After they went, I tried going and the car to my right (who had just arrived) pulled out in front of me. They saw the anger on my face and flipped me off. I put the driver’s side window down and yelled an un-Christian expletive. Serius XM’s 63 The Message was playing on the stereo. As always happens, I immediately regretted what I said and asked for God’s forgiveness.

I always do. But I keep getting angry behind the wheel.

Many people, including me, believe it’s not spiritual or Christ-like to be angry, and they feel guilty when they are. Anger, however, is a normal human emotion. I recall a night at work last year when I was beginning to boil over the way my boss was treatment me. While still steaming, I took two annoying phone calls. After hanging up, I turned quickly and spilled soda onto the pages of a $321 college text book. That’s it! I picked up the book and threw it across the office floor. My pulse was racing and I felt out of control. Not a very comfortable feeling.

After calming down, I picked up my cell phone and called one of my buddies at church. When I finished telling him what happened, he paused, took a breath, and said, “Well, brother, I hate to tell you this, but you’re afflicted with a little thing I like to call being human.” None of my “yeah, but” comments won him over. He said there were no buts. It is a fact of living in the flesh. Today, when I got home, my mother played a voice mail message from me I did not know I left. I had somehow called my mother’s cell phone while snapping out at that intersection. When she got home, we talked about how things have been bothering me and that I keep getting angry. She played the message. I didn’t want to hear it, but it was necessary. My brother said the family has begun to see me as a Jekyll and Hyde. As you can imagine, that didn’t set to well with me.

When We Let Our Emotions Control Us

We are quite easily ruled by our emotions; especially when we don’t realize it is occurring. Naturally, we all have days when we feel more emotional than others, and there may be a good reason why. It’s hard to simply tell ourselves, “This too shall pass.” However, some of us have a long history of out-of-balance emotional behavior. Many are facing long-standing problems that might go back to childhood or adolescence. But without confrontation of painful issues from the past, it is impossible to move forward with a healthy soul.

forIt is critical that we don’t waste today or put our future in jeopardy because we keep living in the past. If we are constantly looking back with regret, sadness, and resentment, and forward with fear, we will fail to realize that each day is a new beginning. Holding on to our past cost us our future.

If we cling on to the past and keep on using it as an excuse for why our lives are crappy, we can’t move forward. Our future will be very similar to our past. This is known by the colloquial expression emotional baggage. Whenever we bring up past hurts, continually rehearsing our failures and agonizing over things we should have done but didn’t, we’re tying ourselves to our past. We’re risking the chance that our present and future will not be different. In reality, our past isn’t the past. William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” How can it die if we keep reliving it? I read sometime ago that our thoughts affect our emotions, our emotions affect our actions, our actions affect our habits, our habits affect our lifestyle, and our lifestyle becomes our destiny. Please take a minute and read that again.

I’ll wait.

So What About All These Emotions?

Our emotions tend to ebb and flow like the tide at the beach. Joyce Meyer wrote, “It would be so nice if they would just ask permission to come or go, but they don’t.” Obviously, wishing our emotions were different won’t change a thing, so we need to do more than daydream about “better times, better feelings.” I spent my childhood years in a bad relationship with my father. I could not seem to behave, and dad couldn’t seem to control me. He’d ask, “Why do you keep doing these things?” I’d simply respond with the truth: “I don’t know.” He tried everything: lectures from the pastor, loss of privileges, corporal punishment. He even tried to predict where I’d end up if I didn’t change. I’d end up in prison. He was right.

My first mode of escape was writing. I also listened to a lot of music. It seemed the song lyrics of many hits from the 70s were telling my story. One song that stands out is The Logical Song by Supertramp from the Breakfast Over America album. The words still haunt me.

“When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical; and all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily, oh joyfully, playfully watching me; but then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible, and they showed me a world where I could be so dependable; oh clinical, oh intellectual, cynical… there are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run too deep for such a simple man; won’t you please, please tell me what I’ve learned, I know it sounds absurd, please tell me who I am.”

Another anthem of mine from that era was Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man) by Styx. The song title alone said it all. The older I got, the harder it was for me to grasp the root of my melancholy, moody, angry, bitter, life. I remember loving the beach, swimming at the public pool with friends, eating cherries fresh from the cherry tree in my back yard, rescuing lost and injured animals, going camping on weekends, hiking, photography, drinking from the garden hose. Sadly, by the time I hit high school, nothing made sense anymore.

“You see the world through your cynical eyes, you’re a troubled young man I can tell; you’ve got it all in the palm of your hand, but your hand’s wet with sweat and your head needs a rest… how can you be such an angry young man when your future looks quite bright to me; how can there be such a sinister plan that could hide such a lamb, such a caring young man…”

I had accepted Christ at age 13 and was baptized. Our family regularly attended every church service held at Sunbury Bible Church—Wednesday Bible study, Thursday prayer and worship, Sunday school and worship, and Sunday evening evangelism broadcasts live on a local radio station. None of that seemed to matter any more once my father decided we were quitting church cold-turkey. He said he was tired of the hypocrisy and being constantly asked to give more or serve more. I didn’t realize I could attend church by myself. Shortly after we stopped going to church, I fell out of relationship with Jesus Christ. Things grew exponentially worse after that.

An Epidemic of Violence in America?

Anger is a huge problem in our world. Especially over the past decade. Whether it’s a disgruntled employee or bullied high school student unleashing violence through mass murder, or domestic violence, road rage, terrorism, politics, abortion rights, the economy, or war, we are constantly reminded of the global anger that is a part of the society in which we are living. Violence continues to rise while everyone debates the Second Amendment, mental illness, drug abuse, and bullying. We seem obsessed with a quick fix. Confiscate all guns. It is not an easy topic.

Virginia Beach Shooting Pic 01.jpg

A police officer walks near the scene where at least twelve people were killed during a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach city public works building on May 31, 2019.

PsychCentral calls anger and resentment “relationship killers.” Anger hurts. Naturally. When we don’t handle anger, it can overwhelm us. If we’re in denial about our anger, we cannot hope to accept it or properly deal with it. Difficulty with anger is typically due to poor role models growing up. Learning to manage anger should be taught in childhood, but if our parents lacked skills to handle their own anger maturely, they were unable to pass them on.

Unattended anger can quickly turn into a resentment. It is, unfortunately, a formidable foe. Resentment is often defined as anger and indignation experienced as a result of unfair treatment. The problem with anger is that it’s one of the densest forms of communication. It contains tons of information (including emotion), which tends to spill out all at once. Arguments are more apples-to-oranges than apples-to-apples. Everything that’s been building up—even past hurts and offenses you thought you let go of weeks, months, or years ago. It seems likely that individuals who resort to mass murder have been extremely angry for decades. They feel marginalized. As if they don’t really matter. The past builds, rolls down a hill as the proverbial snowball, growing, growing, then…

“And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13, NKJV).”

Consider the Virginia Beach shooting. CNN has confirmed that DeWayne Craddock had resigned earlier in the day before killing 12 coworkers and injuring several others, including one police officer. Mr. Craddock had worked for the city for about 15 years, and had trained as an engineer. He spent time in the Virginia National Guard, and public records did not suggest that he had any history with the criminal justice system other than traffic violations. Initial reports were that he’d just been fired and was disgruntled enough to commit mass murder. A spokesperson for the city said Craddock’s resignation was not connected with any decision that had been made about Craddock’s future position in the government. Begs the question, where did all this anger come from? Unfortunately, we can’t ask Craddock. He was killed in a hail of bullets when he opened fire on police officers.

The Sin of Offense

Our natural reaction in conflict is to blame others and focus on what they did to us. There is a known moral imperative that fairness and justice means “you get what you deserve.” This is a difficult concept to grasp in the middle of being hurt or offended. In this manner, our “feelings” often get in the way of conflict resolution. We feel absolutely justified or indignant about our anger. After all, look what he or she did to me! Often when we are offended we see ourselves as victims and blame those who have hurt us. We justify our anger, resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Sometimes we resent those who remind us of others who have hurt us. Just because we are offended or mistreated, we do not have the right to hold onto offense. 

“Then he said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come'” (Luke 17:1, NKJV).

The Greek word for “offend” in Luke 17:1 comes from the word skandalon. This word initially referred to the part of the trap to which the bait was attached. Accordingly, the word signifies laying a trap in someone’s way. John Bevere (2004) says no matter what the situation, offended people can be divided into two major categories: (1) those who have been treated unjustly, or (2) those who believe they have been treated unjustly. I have spent a great deal of time in the second category. My pride keeps me from admitting my part—my true condition—in the matter. Pride keeps us from dealing with truth. It distorts our vision. We cannot change when we think either everything is fine, or we’ve done nothing wrong to anger someone. Pride can actually harden our hearts despite God having given us a heart of flesh at conversion.

We construct walls when we are hurt to safeguard our hearts and prevent any future wounds. We become quite picky about who we will let in. No one knows how long, but eventually these walls of protection become an emotional prison. The angrier we get, the more likely we will continue to get angry. Whenever we expend energy defending ourselves, isolating, withholding love and good will, we forget about forgiveness, grace, and the love of God. Here’s a great point from Bevere: “If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. [Unfortunately], unconditional love gives others the right to hurt us.” For me, he means love does not seek its own. He is suggesting that if we wallow in our hurts and offenses, we become increasingly self-seeking and self-contained. When we filter everything through past hurts, rejections, and offenses, we find it impossible to believe God.

So Now What?

When we are hurt or offended and in unforgiveness—and when we refuse to repent of this sin—we have not arrived at the truth. We are deceived, and our hypocrisy confuses those we could otherwise lead to Christ. This is unfortunately true for me more times than I’d like to admit, but we’re only as sick as our secrets. My mantra was, “If it weren’t for my father, I would have had a normal life.” For too long I hung on to the idea that I can’t forgive others, and I am globally angry, because that’s what dad taught me. To the degree that this is even somewhat true, at some point it becomes irrelevant. It’s sort of like knowing what is causing us to suffer a physical ailment but not stopping the activity causing us to be sick.

If we stay free from offense, we are better able to stay in God’s will. When offended, we are taken hostage by Satan to fulfill his own purpose and will. Not God’s and not ours. First Corinthians 13 (often called the “Love Chapter”) defines unconditional (Greek, agape) love. One of my favorite interpretations of this critical biblical principle is described in Eugene Peterson’s (2006) The Message//Remix. He writes, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what is doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end” [italics mine].

“This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16).

Reaching this seemingly lofty and elusive goal cannot be accomplished on our power alone. We are simply incapable of unconditional love and acceptance. It takes spiritual growth and a reliance on the Holy Spirit to lead us down the paths we are to take as Christians who have been redeemed from the power and the wages of sin. We can, however, start by making an effort to stay free from offense. It’s a lot like working out at the gym. When we regularly exercise our forgiveness and work toward God’s ideal for love (1 Corinthians 13), we slowly get better at it. We drastically increase the odds that we will become less and less offended and instead begin to let go and forgive.

I will be praying that you are able to break the bondage of hurt, offense, anger, resentment, and unforgiveness. I would ask that you pray for me as well. Now, let’s go forth in grace and kindness. May we forgive ourselves and see ourselves as God sees us. This is critical if we are ever to curb our anger and express our love and acceptance of others and our situation.

References

Bevere, J. (2004). The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

Peterson, E. The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

The Power of “And” in God’s Promises of Blessings and Curses

When we make a promise we essentially give an assurance that we will engage in or refrain from a specific form of activity. These commitments are typically made between individuals, and can include quite a range of activities. Simple promises can be written or oral, and may be temporary or lifelong. Such gestures are often sealed by a gesture, such as a simple handshake or a solemn oath. Complicated situations often require a witness and legal ratification. However, a covenant should be distinguished from a contract because it is a personal relationship into which people voluntarily enter. 

Promises may also be between groups of people. Where important bodies are involved, such as government entities, such promises generally assume the form of treaties. Among honest individuals a promise includes an expectation that the promisor is both willing and able to fulfill the commitment to the promise, with the undertaking being accepted on the basis of good faith. Where groups of people are involved, litigation is often resorted to in order to resolve the damage occasioned by the failure of the promisor to fulfill the stated obligations. In the case of broken international treaties, appeal may be made to an international judicial body for some type of redress. In some instances, military action might even be undertaken by the aggrieved party.

Scripture records agreements between individuals in the second millennium BC in Mesopotamia. A classic example is noted in Genesis 31:43-55 regarding Laban and Jacob when Jacob was seeking his independence. A covenant was established between them in which the two men agreed not to act aggressively toward one another. Each man swore an oath by his god, and erected a stone marker to commemorate the occasion. On his deathbed, Jacob promised his twelve sons that the future would hold certain prospects for them, and according to contemporary custom this statutory declaration to each of them gave the pronouncements legal force (see Genesis 49:1-33).

“AND” IS NOT JUST A CONJUNCTION

So let’s take a few minutes to discuss conjunction. My 9th grade English teacher told me a conjunction is a word used to connect clauses or sentences or to coordinate words in the same clause. We all know the usual suspects: and, but, if. Fine, but why “conjunction?” Actually, these clauses are called conjuncts of the conjoining construction. Okay, right. We can take it a step further, noting coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions, and correlative conjunctions.

…and who could forget this?

God has made it clear that “and” is not merely a conjunction. He is not interested in grammar. Rather, He is intent on setting the operating principles for His many promises and covenants.

A promise meant to bring great blessing to humanity was made by God to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God said, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (NIV). Abraham, although childless, was to become the progenitor of a great nation. God repeated this promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:5. By faith, Abraham believed God’s utterances. God brought His promise even closer to fulfillment by stating that Sarah would have a son (see Genesis 18:10). Thereafter, Abraham rested his confidence in God’s divinity, and lived to see the Lord’s assurances implemented in what Paul, millennia later, was to call the “covenants of the promise” (Ephesians 2:12; Galatians 3:6-17).

The word covenant is of Latin origin (con venire). It means “coming together,” and involves two or more parties who agree to an arrangement—promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. In Christian theology, it is similar to the word bond. The generally-accepted idea of a bond between two parties in a covenant implies that the arrangement is not unilateral. There are of course pronounced similarities between biblical and secular covenants. God is the originator of the concept of covenant. He used covenant relationships in His creation activity and handiwork. Covenant is an integral part of the patchwork of human life; it is God-implanted.

The basic elements of a covenant are embedded in the Genesis account. God, in His revelation of creation, presented Himself as the Creator. The historical record of what He has done was outlined in Scripture. He created His image-bearers by means of which He placed and kept man and woman in a close relationship with Himself and had them mirror and represent Him within the created universe. God clearly provided man with various stipulations or mandates. This makes perfect sense; as image-bearers, man is to maintain an intimate and obedient fellowship with God. The Sabbath was to enhance this. Humanity was to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth; this was to be done by establishing families; a man was to leave his parents and cleave to his wife (see Genesis 2:24). Becoming one flesh, they would bear offspring.

As families increased, communities were formed. This was the social mandate aspect of God’s covenant. The cultural mandate essentially involved man and woman cultivating (“subduing,” NIV) and ruling over God’s creation. When God saw all He had done, He confirmed it so, but not by expressing an oath or performing a ratifying ceremony. Rather, He declared all to be very good (see Genesis 1:31). He confirmed this by ceasing all aspects of creation and establishing the seventh day as a day of rest, sanctity, and blessing (see Genesis 2:1-3).

WHAT ABOUT THE TWO-WAY STREET?

God did more than just “create” and sit down. He spoke of assured blessings. He blessed Adam and Eve, giving them the authority to serve as His covenant agents. He provided for their sustenance (see Genesis 1:28-30). He also spoke of the possibility for disobedience if they ate of the fruit of the Tree Knowledge of Good and Evil (see Genesis 2:17). God clearly focused on the idea of blessing (life) and curse (death). God’s covenants were all-inclusive stipulations. Basically, He said, “Here’s what you can have if you obey my covenant.” God clearly wanted it understood that His covenants are two-way streets. We cannot pick and choose which aspects we’re going to obey.

His covenants were never terminated. Paul said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NIV). I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this verse: “For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself” (MSG). Jesus was quite clear: “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18, NIV). Frankly, God’s covenants are similar to a lateral contract. When you buy a house or vehicle, you enter into a contract that is essentially a two-way street. You get to keep driving the car or living in the house until all agreed-upon payments (terms) have been met. Title of ownership then transfers to you. You reap the benefits of upholding your end of the agreement. Miss a lot of payments (default on the covenant) and the benefits of ownership will not pass to you.

A PRIME EXAMPLE

Jesus told us in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others of their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NIV). I’m aware that this doctrine causes many to doubt, stumble, question God. The going argument is this: But I thought all my sins were forgiven when I accepted Christ, and that He removed my sins from me as far as the East is from the West. It’s clear that the death of Jesus Christ was ransom enough to cover a multitude of sins. By God’s grace we are saved. Yet we remain in a fleshly body and are, therefore, prone to carnality. We’re likely to stumble, but hopefully we do not intentionally disobey God. To do so is a slap in the face of Jesus.

Believers are rather enthusiastic about grace. We’re quite excited about having been forgiven through God’s grace, extended to us through Christ. So why do many of us have a difficult time extending this same grace to those who have sinned against us? Bevere (2004), in his book The Bait of Satan, notes that there are two types of people: Those who have been offended, and those who think they have been offended. Forgiveness goes much deeper than merely receiving it for ourselves and going about living our lives. We’re commanded to forgive others. This should be part of our testimony. We’re to shower others with forgiveness even as we have been forgiven. Peter was concerned about how many times we should extend forgiveness: “At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven'” (Matthew 18:21-22, MSG).

The true meaning of forgiveness is cancelling a debt. C.S. Lewis (1984) said, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it all in its horror, dirt, meanness and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.” Forgiveness means releasing resentment. Frankly, suppressed resentment will never go away. It lies in wait, like a subtext, tainting our relationships and convincing us we’re right. It blinds us to seeing whatever part we might have played in a conflict. It’s like a smoldering fire inside a house. It can break out anywhere at any time.

Forgiveness means choosing love. When we choose to not forgive, we construct walls to safeguard our hearts and prevent future wounds. Remember the adage, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me? Nearly all of us take that axiom to heart. This rationale causes us to become selective, denying entry to all we fear will hurt us. Unfortunately, these so-called walls of protection become a veritable prison. Our focus becomes, well, rather self-centered. Our focus is inward and introspective. It’s all about what the other person did to us. Our energy is consumed with making sure no one else hurts us. Bevere (2004) said, “If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. Unconditional love gives others the right to hurt us” (p. 16). Of course, that sounds rather counter-intuitive doesn’t it?

 Love does not seek its own, but hurt people become more and more self-seeking and self-contained. They do this in the interest of self-preservation. The offended Christian is one who takes in life but, because of fear, cannot share life. As a result, even the life that does come in becomes stagnant within the walls we build to avoid getting hurt. Bevere (2004) adds, “When we filter everything through past hurts, rejections, and experiences, we find it impossible to believe God” (p. 17). Let’s remember this: A minister or a Christian is what he lives, not what he says. If we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we have not come to the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse others with our hypocritical lifestyle.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

God clearly focused on the idea of blessings and curses. He was quite specific that His covenants are all-inclusive stipulations. He told us what we can have if we obey His covenant. He wants us to understand that His covenants are two-way streets. We cannot pick and choose which aspects we’re going to obey and still expect to be blessed. One of the best examples of this is His position on forgiveness. Jesus said, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, NIV). He forgave the Jewish mob who demanded His crucifixion. He forgave the Roman soldiers who beat Him and nailed Him to the cross. He even forgave Judas Iscariot. He made no threats. Instead, he entrusted Himself to Him judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).

We have to come to the place where we trust God and not our flesh—our emotions. We need to understand the quid pro quo of God’s covenants. Of His promised blessings. We must become willing to forgive, even as we have been forgiven. Only then can we walk in the freedom and the joy of God’s blessings.

References

Bevere, J. (2004), The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House.

Lewis, C.S. (1984). The Business of Heaven. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Press.

Peterson, E. (2006). The Message//Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing.

Offense Kills!

 

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As humans, we’re easily offended. We fail to understand, however, that offense can become resentment; this, in turn, can lead to anger. Ultimately, unresolved anger can morph into hatred. Hatred, if left unchecked, can destroy us.

Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.

John Bevere, in his book The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense, tells us the issue of offense is often the most difficult obstacle an individual will face in his or her life. Jesus wisely told His disciples, “…if your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3, NIV). Bevere writes, “Often when we are offended we see ourselves as victims and blame those who have hurt us. We justify our bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, envy, and resentment as they surface. Sometimes we even resent those who remind us of others who have hurt us” (p.10). Hatred actually walls us off—from God and from others. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

THE WALLS WE BUILD

We build walls when we are hurt to safeguard our hearts and prevent any future wounds. We become selective, denying entry to all we fear might hurt us. This could not be more true when it comes to romantic relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase, “He comes with a lot of emotional baggage.” Perhaps you’re married and have spent the night on the couch after offending your spouse. Unfortunately, without our knowing, these walls we construct become a prison. We guard our rights and personal relationships carefully. But there is a huge trade-off here. If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. We avoid the hurt, yes, but we inadvertently cut off the good as well. I’m a huge Garth Brooks fan. One of my favorite songs by him is The Dance, which brilliantly and poignantly touches on this topic.

Bevere believes when we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we fail to walk in the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse other Christians and non-believers with our hypocritical lifestyle. We become a spring that spews forth bitter waters. You see, those who are planted in the love of Christ and the will of God will flourish. But those who harbor resentment, anger, and hatred will isolate. They will begin to avoid those with whom they are angry. Social connections will begin to die off. Wither on the vine. They become miserable and their prayer life begins to suffer. The unavoidable result is a faltering relationship with Jesus. This can only lead to a diminished capacity to forgive and to love. This is nothing less than a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worse yet, offended people begin to believe everyone is out to get them. With this attitude it is difficult for them to see areas in their own lives that need to be changed. God simply did not create us to live alone on an island. We are to love and care for one another. We are social beings. We are flesh and blood, but we are also spiritual. If we stop confronting our own character flaws, we fail to grow. Spiritual perfection is not about being perfect—never making a mistake. If you’re attending a church where that message is taught, it’s time to find a biblical church. Spiritual maturity is about growth. It’s about maturity. When we blame everyone else, we stymie our growth. We fail to see the plank in our own eye. In this regard, we are literally hiding from reality.

THE THREE MOST HARMFUL EMOTIONS

In her book Living Beyond Your Feelings, Joyce Meyer addresses the topic of anger. She says the three most harmful negative emotions are anger, guilt, and fear. She believes anger is number one. When a crime is described as being one of passion, that means it was incited by anger. Anger is such a dangerous emotion that people end up in prison because of what it causes them to do. This begs the question, “Is hate instinctive?” What I do know is unconditional love—true, God-like agape love—comes only from God (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In the flesh, we have no capacity for this kind of love.

Nothing justifies an attitude of hatred. I must admit I’ve hated in the past. I did not get along with my father. I allowed my anger to boil over into hatred. It poisoned my relationship with him. It created a dark film over my eyes; I saw everything he did through that distorted view. It robbed me of the opportunity to learn from him. It caused me to fear and avoid him. Hatred will change your worldview. We see the world not so much as it is but as we are—as we are conditioned to see it. You see yourself and the world in a particular way, mostly based on environmental factors. This is both paralyzing and empowering. It is not uncommon to find yourself wondering How did I get here, to this place, at this point in my life?

Anger shows up in many ways: it criticizes, withdraws, ridicules, humiliates, teases, puts down, strikes out physically (against people and property); it causes poor concentration, bad decisions, a miserable life, depression (when turned inward), drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, passive-aggressive behavior, disrespect. It causes a spike in adrenaline and cortisol, which creates anxiety and the sensation of fight-or-flight. It can lead to headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, skin problems, heart attack, or stroke.

WHAT ABOUT RECONCILIATION?

Jesus told His disciples, “What you are in your heart is how you really are!” That is quite an accusation. Humility and meekness were paramount to His ministry. So was gentleness and kindness; forgiveness and compassion. He illustrated the importance of letting go of anger and bitter offense. He indicated that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Reconciliation was far more important than being right. Obviously, there are limitless scenarios for offense. Maybe the person who offended us was truly wrong. Perhaps we’re convinced of the reasonableness of our anger. We feel justified. However, Jesus exhorts us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. This is what is meant by being a peacemaker. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (NIV).

Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship, either between you and God or between you and another person. It assumes a breakdown in the relationship and a need for restoration. Of course, reconciliation is the objective work between God and man through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19). Reconciliation is also the subjective work between a man and his wife; between a brother and his sibling; between a supervisor and his or her subordinate; between two best friends. We are to pursue that which makes for peace between us. We need to remember that pride is anathema to this process. Pride defends. Pride blames others. Humility agrees, and says, “You’re right. I should not have acted that way. Please forgive me.” This takes Godly wisdom. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to imitate God.

THE WAR WITHIN

We often feel like a war is going on within us. Our renewed inner man wants to do what we know is right. The apostle Paul fought this battle. He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the Law is good… for I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 16, 19, NIV). The key is learning to understand the difference between flesh and spirit. We need to practice crucifying the flesh daily, walking instead in the Spirit. In newness of life. Scripture tells us that when we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, He gives us a new nature (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). He imparts to us His nature. He grants us access to a spirit of temperance. He gives us not a spirit of fear but of sound mind (see 2 Timothy 1:7).

This battle also applies to forgiving those who have offended us. Many people—believers and non-believers alike—decide forgiving others is just too hard. They choose avoidance instead. They wallow in unforgiveness. They stew. They allow resentment to build. They become callous. They build walls. Stop making friends. After all, they’ll only get hurt again. People suck, right? But deciding not to forgive can be spiritually crippling. The Bible clearly says that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (see Matthew 6:14-15). If we allow this to happen, we’re permitting sin to stand between us and God. We will find it difficult to hear His will for us. We won’t be able to sense His presence. I know firsthand that harboring resentment robs us of peace, restful sleep, happiness, relationships, contentment, joy. It affects our physical and mental health. It robs us of our spiritual well being.

Do you have someone in your life that has wronged you? Have you been harboring anger, resentment, unforgiveness? Speak to God about it. Ask Him to forgive you of your unforgiveness. Seek His guidance on how to best approach that individual. Then, when you feel led by the Holy Spirit, go to him or her. And whatever you do, give that person the freedom to be themselves in the same manner you expect to be given the freedom to be you. We’re all children of God. Love and forgive others in the same manner that He loves and forgives you.

References

Bevere, J. (2004). The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Publishing.

Meyer, J. (2011). Living Beyond Your Feelings. New York, NY: Faith Words

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the King James Version.