William P. Tuck: What Makes You Angry?

by William Powell Tuck, retired parish pastor, professor, and author of Lord, I Keep Getting a Busy Signal: Reaching for a Better Spiritual ConnectionThe Church Under the CrossA Positive Word for Christian Lamenting: Funeral Homilies, and more!

Dr TuckToo many times in life we are angry for wrong or minor reasons. But sometimes there are times that we should be angry. Not to be angry at some times or in certain situations is a sin. If you and I can be surrounded by poverty, disease, hunger, sexual abuse, racism, crime and other abuses and not be angry enough to want to change these conditions, then something is wrong with us. This anger is not over some personal or petty concern but about someone else’s needs. This kind of anger can express love and genuine concern.

The Church cannot be silent in the face of world problems but has a responsibility and a commission to be the transforming element within the world. The Church is to be the salt, the light, the leaven to change mankind. A newspaper columnist once remarked after a group in his community had a cleanup of crime in his city: “Any group of honest men, when they get mad enough, can drive out crime and make an awful lot of trouble for the criminals.” Anger is appropriate at this kind of behavior!

Some voices are saying that the Church has become too tame and comfortable to challenge the evils of our society. If the Church, however, can recapture its birthright, it will sense the creative and redemptive power with its body. As T. S. Eliot wrote, “In the juvenescence of the year, comes Christ the Tiger.” From this Christ the Church, his body, receives the explosive power to turn the world upside down. A tamed, comfortable Church will not change the world but a Church which has seen “Christ the Tiger” can. May the prayer of E. Stanley Jones become your prayer and mine. “O Christ of the whip and the flashing eye, give us an inward hurt at the wrong done to others, but save us from personal resentments, for they destroy us. Amen.”

Religious history rings with those who care enough to be angry at the right time. Moses was angry at the enslavement of the children of Israel in Egypt. Elijah was angry at the prophets of Baal and the idolatry which they practiced in Israel. John the Baptist was angry at the distortion of religion by the Jewish leaders. Jesus was angry with the abuse of those who charged worshippers large prices for their sacrificial animals. Paul was angry at those who wanted to confine the gospel to the Jews. Luther was angry at the corruption in the established church. John Wesley was angry at the practice of religion in the Church of England. There are times when anger needs to be directed toward particular situations or problems, if we are to find a solution.

Several years ago the Chrysler Corporation former Chairman, Lee Iacocca, addressed the graduating class at the University of Michigan. Time Magazine reported his address in its June 20, 1983 issue. Among other things he told the students that day, he made the following observations: “I want you to get mad about the current state of affairs. I want you to get so mad that you kick your elders in their figurative posteriors and move America off dead center. Our nation was born when 56 patriots got mad enough to sign the Declaration of Independence. We put a man on the moon because Sputnik made us mad at being No. 2 in space. Getting mad in a constructive way is good for the soul — and for the country.” There are constructive ways where anger can be beneficial. We need to discover those areas and ways.

One of my favorite heroes from the Civil War is Robert E. Lee. After the Civil War, Lee was in Lexington, Virginia, where he had gone to be president of a small college called Washington University. One day he was sitting on his porch in his rocking chair with his crutches by his side. Some men from the Louisiana Lottery came to see him and offered him a proposition. Lee couldn’t believe what they had said, so he asked them to repeat it. They said that they didn’t want anything from him except to use his name. In using his name, they told him that they would make him rich. Lee stood up in his chair and thundered: “Gentlemen, I lost my home in the war. I lost my fortune in the war. I lost everything in the war except my name. My name is not for sale, and if you fellows don’t get out of here I’ll break this crutch over your heads.”

Sometimes anger needs to be directed in a positive way. The apostle Paul has said, “Be angry and sin not.” Phillips has translated that verse, “Never go to bed angry–don’t give the devil that sort of foothold.” Paul wrote in the latter part of this same chapter the following words: “Have done with spite and passion, all angry shouting and cursing, and bad feeling of every kind. Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32). What makes you angry? There should be some things that do. But on other occasions, you need to keep your anger under control. We are measured by what makes us angry.