(This is the first of several posts regarding anger and what to do with it.)
I believe we were living through a pandemic before any of us had heard of COVID-19. Like COVID, this malady is communicated from person to person. It devastates families, harms economies, impacts businesses, and creates mental health problems. It has taken untold lives and has torn the social fabric at every level, from families to nations.
This calamity has affected everyone; it is truly pandemic. It has been estimated that COVID-19 will cost the world economy 21 trillion dollars. I suspect that is pocket change compared to what this other pandemic has cost the world.
What is it? It is anger.
Anger is not a nameless, faceless woe. For millions of people, anger has a name: dad. For millions of people, anger has a face: mom’s. Anger can even be embodied – God help us – in our own bodies.
What would you think of a person with COVID-19 who knowingly went into a setting where vulnerable people lived, say a nursing home, and began transmitting the virus? You would be horrified. But when it comes to anger, that happens every day as people knowingly spread it to their families and friends.
Perhaps you don’t think that anger is that bad. After all, the Bible doesn’t say that anger is a sin. So what if I get angry? Everyone gets angry from time to time. It is the human condition.
I couldn’t agree more. Everyone gets angry. It is no more a sin to get angry than it is to get COVID. But to knowingly spread that anger to your family and friends, to infect them – that is another matter.
COVID-19 is airborne; it spreads through talking, coughing, and singing while in close proximity to others. Anger spreads in a different way: through words (both spoken and printed), gestures, profanity, condemnation, and contempt. Anger is so contagious that it doesn’t even require personal contact. Ground Zero for an anger event can be thousands of miles away. It spreads over bandwidth, through text, email, Facebook, and the (so called) news media.
We’ve all heard of people and corporations making money from COVID. Guess what? People peddle anger for the same reason. Many talk radio folks, media stars, writers, and news personalities are experts at making money from anger. They spread it intentionally to fund their extravagant lifestyles. May God have mercy on their souls.
Jesus warned about anger and made it clear that, if we ignore his warning, we will face serious consequences. Because he knew anger is transmitted through contempt, he prohibited it categorically. Calling someone names – idiot, fool, stupid – is comparable to going into the nursing home with the coronavirus and coughing on all the residents.
Maybe you think I am exaggerating. Anger isn’t as bad as all that. Years of being positioned to see into families and seeing the fallout from harmful (sinful) expressions of anger – the brokenness, anxiety, depression, division, hatred, mental illness, and more – has taught me otherwise.
Anger has a wide blast radius. The one person who is always injured in the blast is the angry person himself, who suffers physically, emotionally, and spiritually – anger gets in the way of knowing God. Anger is frequently devastating to the person who is its object. It can even affect bystanders who witness it. Anger leads to two familiar ends: the reproduction of anger and the generation of fear.
Anger is self-perpetuating. Over the years, people have admitted to me that they have an anger problem (usually after serious damage has already been done). Nearly always, the person whose anger has damaged relationships and ruined lives had an angry parent. Anger begets anger – and it’s reproduction rate is out of sight.
And when it comes to anger, the begotten sometimes consumes the begetter. I have known parents whose anger bred anger in their children, and now the children’s anger is eating the parents alive. And of course those children have children – and the cycle goes on.