(Part 3 in a short series of posts on handling anger responsibly.)
Let’s say you are ready to change. You are done making excuses. You admit that you have an anger problem. Great! You are ready to ask forgiveness from those you have hurt and make amends where possible. I commend you. And now you are ready to go toe to toe with your anger, face it head-on, and use your willpower to become a calm and peaceful person.
Please don’t. That will only make you angrier. You need to go about this God’s way, with him in charge, not you. And you need to understand what is involved.
So, here is one thing we need to understand. Anger is integrated into the system – your system. You can’t go and pull it out while leaving everything else in place. When I was a kid, TVs had vacuum tubes. On Thursday, when your TV stopped working, you took off the back, pulled the tubes, went down to the drug store (where they had a tube tester), found the bad one, replaced it, and were watching My Three Sons that evening.
We might think that we can do the same thing with anger: just pull it out of our lives like one of those tubes. We want to stop being angry but we don’t want anything else to change. But that won’t work. Here’s why.
Anger is one component in a package deal. It is integrated into the system. It isn’t isolatable – we are not wired like that. It is not enough to deal with anger; you have to deal with you – the whole package – and, more importantly, you have to deal with God.
I recently ordered a new computer and, when I get it, I will install Microsoft Office. That means I’ll get PowerPoint, Word, Excel, Publisher, and One Note, which are integrated into one package and share common files. Now here is what we need to understand: Anger is part of the “old self” package, mentioned in verse 22: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires…” Call it “Old Self 365,” which comes with various programs included: an orientation to sensuality (verse 19), falsehood (verse 25), anger (verse 26), stealing (verse 27), and inappropriate comments (verse 29). These programs all share files (verse 31): rage, anger, brawling (the word refers to loud talk or shouting) and slander (which could be translated as insults), with malice.
You can try to isolate one component – like anger – and delete it, but the system makes backup copies. You are programmed, so to speak, to automatically restore the old settings. If you really want to change the way anger works in your life, you need to change the entire operating system. In other words, you cannot stay the same person, only without the anger.
We’ve tried that … and it hasn’t worked. We delete files but were automatically reset to the restore point of bitterness, rage, and anger. This happens because we have ignored the Programmer. Alienated from God (verse 18), we enter the world with the “old self” package pre-installed. And the diabolical Hacker can use anger as a backdoor through which to gain access to our interior life. Hence Paul’s warning: Do not give the devil a foothold.
That is the bad news. Here is the good news. There is a “new self” package available. It, too, is an integrated system. Some of its components are listed here as well: It comes with a righteousness and holiness orientation (verse 24), and includes truthfulness (verse 25), altruism (verse 28), grace (verse 29, where the phrase, “benefit those who listen,” is literally, “give grace to those who listen) and runs on a platform (verse 32) of kindness, compassion and forgiveness. It, too, is a package deal.