But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Whenever we hike in national parks, I carry waterproof matches. In 15 years of hiking, I’ve never lit a match. We have a great stove with a piezo-electric igniter (a small spring-loaded hammer that hits a small piece of PZT quartz crystal producing a small electrical discharge which lights our camp fuel and thus heats our food). Our stove has never failed to light, even in very wet conditions. Why still carry waterproof matches? Because I’m human.
We all carry a box of matches. Most of us don’t think of our emotional life as a box of matches, but we have an inner source of ignition, which can spark a flame and kindle a fire of emotions deep within our soul.
Anger is a gift from God. God gets angry. We are all made in God’s image. We get angry. Like all God’s gifts, anger can be used for godly purposes or misused in ungodly ways.
When I was a child, my brothers and I were fascinated with fire. One Saturday, we were lighting stuff on fire. It was all kid’s stuff; nothing truly dangerous. We had rows of cap-gun caps, and were popping them with our thumbs. Dad caught us by smell alone. He smelled something burning. We lived in Southern California in a nice wood house. He lined all five of his sons up, and looked at our fingertips. Those who had signs of fire play were disciplined.
God also disciplines us when our anger us misplaced or misused. Do we have a right to be angry? Of course. Is all human anger a blessing? Of course not.
What gets you angry? What causes you to take out your box of matches and start lighting fires? How do you handle your anger once the spark has kindled a flame? How big a fire do you make, and how many others are pulled into your circle of anger? How do you deal with smouldering charred coals of anger after the initial blaze has worn down?
Anger is a very intimate emotion. Strange to say, but we often only share our anger with those we love the most. We don’t want to waste our matches on people we don’t know. Many of us share our anger with nobody. We keep our anger to ourselves. Others may think we never get angry, think we are cerebral, think we are cool-headed, think we have it all together, or think we are emotionally stuffed. In part they are probably right. Anyone walking past Jonah on this day of his life would likely not know that he is fuming, with a deep anger of resentment toward God burning him up from the inside out.
Stuffed or repressed anger is just as dangerous to the human soul as uncontrolled or unbridled anger. The first damages our own soul. The second damages others.
When God asks Jonah if he has a right to be angry, he’s looking out for Jonah’s soul health. God doesn’t want his chosen prophet Jonah to destroy the beautiful interior cathedral of his soul. Keep the anger in the wood stove, and it will bring warmth and light to the soul. Allow it too much fuel or fanfare and it will burn down your life and the lives of others.
Our world has too many stories of anger out of control. Daily news highlights the results around the world of anger run amok. The phrase “amok” originates in Malaysia, a Malay word, which means “to make a furious and desperate charge”, when an individual allowed an evil tiger spirit to enter their body and caused them to go on an angry rampage against others.
Jesus got angry on occasion especially at injustices and hypocrisy of religious leaders, but he also warns us against letting our anger destroy others (see Matthew 5:21-24), encouraging us to seek reconciliation with others when we’ve been angry with them. Paul writes about anger in his letter to the church in Ephesus: “In your anger do not do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Finally, we hear a wise counter to anger in the writings of James: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
Photo by Thomas Robinson. See www.zoomdak.com