When I was a child, I was fascinated by the TV show, ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ You may recall that in that 1970's TV series, the protagonist was a man who had been plagued by a science experiment gone wrong. As a result, whenever Dr. David Banner got angry, his eyes would dilate. His skin would turn a menacing shade of green. His bulging biceps would then rip his shirt to shreds, and a horrible monster would be unleashed. The narrator says it well: “The monster within Dr. Banner was driven by rage.”
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” he would say to those who would tempt his temper.
This classic Jekyll and Hyde story is both compelling and revealing. For in truth, we all have a monster that lives within us. It is revealed when we are stressed, anxious, furious or enraged. When this monstrous side of us is revealed, it can do incalculable damage to those we love the most. We become reptilian--reacting instead of responding--striking out at others with little thought to the consequences. We are our worst selves when our anger controls our thoughts and our actions.
Dr. Banner is correct. We are neither likeable, nor lovable when we are fueled by rage.
Anger is not the enemy, just as none of our emotions are innately bad. Our emotional response to the world just is. We become co-opted by our emotions, however, when we begin to identify with our feelings. We may feel anger, or disappointment or disgust, but we are not the embodiment of those emotions. It is a far better response to temper our inner voice and report that we “feel angry,” rather than state that we “are angry.” We are not our emotions. Our emotions do not make up our identities.
Or at least they shouldn’t. For when we become our feelings, we feed the monster that is eager to run free.
Paul gives us good counsel on the issue of anger and rage. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he tells us, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Feeling anger is not a sin. And that’s a good thing, because there is much to feel angry about. The catch, Paul tells us, is to not sin in our anger.
Anger is a powerful emotion. It can drive us to do good. But it can also be used as a toxin, blinding us to one another and making enemies where we should be neighbors. Anger, as we know, can be manipulated…it can be fueled. People can use us by stoking our anger and directing our inner monsters to hurt others. It is imperative that we guard against this impulse so that we do not allow our righteous anger to prompt a sinful reaction.
So feel anger. Absolutely. Allow the anger that you feel to wash over you. But then let it leave you, as well. Holding your anger inside is just as detrimental to you as it is to unleash it upon others. Find a way to allow your anger to escape. And do so quickly, Paul intones. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
There is a wry comedy in the ways people channel their anger. My father used to go out after work and split wood. The longer he was out there at the wood pile, the angrier—we assumed—he felt. Apparently, I get angry at inanimate objects (or so my family reports). I let the offending device, hammer or tree stump know that I am angry, and for the most part, that verbal release enables me to move on.
How do you release your anger?
I pray that you do. Because, if you do not find a healthy way to release the anger that builds up inside you, you are “making room for the devil.” Be suspicious of the anger that lurks in your heart after the sun goes down. That anger is not working for good. That monster, that devil, is crafting a strategy to work for evil.
How can I be so sure? Just turn on the evening news.