Anger, Forgiveness, and Prayer, pt 1


Some thoughts:


First: anger is part of how we’re wired.  God gave us these strong, sometimes negative emotions–anger, sadness, fear, etc.  The problem isn’t that we’re feeling something sinful, bad, or wrong when we feel them, the problem is that we frequently don’t handle them, process them, the way God intends for us to process them.

Ephesians 4.26 quotes Psalm 4; “‘Be angry, but do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry.”  Do you see it?  It’s not the anger that’s the problem, it’s letting it simmer, letting it go unprocessed.

So: when someone has wronged you, or someone has wronged others, it is perfectly normal for anger be part of your response. Just process it, don’t let it fester.

Second: unprocessed anger will wreck your life.  Unprocessed anger usually = a lack of forgiveness toward others.  The destructive power of unforgiveness is the reason that the New Testament writers, including the words of Jesus himself, keep linking our forgiveness of others with our own forgiveness from God:

  • “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. … For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6.12, 14-15)
  • “… forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4.32)
  • “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Col 3.13)

The devastating effects of unforgiveness are proverbial.

  • “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,” is a widely disseminated saying in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups.
  • “Forgiveness doesn’t erase the past, but it unshackles the future,” is a more positive version, one I heard from James Dobson.

Third: unprocessed anger cripples you spiritually.  I paraphrased Richard Rohr the other day, that angry people cannot pray, angry people cannot practice the presence of God.  (The quote I was thinking of was from his interview with The Liturgists, where he said “Angry people can’t be mystics.”)  This has certainly been my experience.

Jesus himself alludes to this in Matt 5.23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

And Peter alludes to the way our horizontal relationships affect our prayers: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Pet 3.7)  Leaving aside the questions raised by “weaker partner,” the point is clear: disharmony in our horizontal relationships negatively affects our relationship with God.

So how do we handle our anger?  How do we forgive people who have hurt us?  How do we find health and restoration in this area?  That’s my next post.

I Haven’t Written Lately, Because …


So I haven’t written much lately.

I’ve gone through long periods of silence on this blog, but A. I’ve been disciplined at writing regularly this summer, and B. most of those silences were job-related, as I got bogged down with the daily work of the semester.

Well, this silence was job related.  As in: I lost my job, and it made it difficult to write.

If you don’t know, I lost my job at the end of June.  This was unexpected, and (as you might expect) really threw me for a loop.  Losing my job is one of the reasons I haven’t written.

It’s hard to focus and write when you’re trying to be especially careful about what you say.

It’s hard to focus and write when life has been turned upside down.

It’s also hard to focus and write when your most productive writing time–early morning–is now filled by necessity with driving Uber.

I got an Uber driving account last summer, kind of on a lark, and have kept it current by driving for a few hours every month since.  Since I lost my job, Uber has been a terrific device for helping us stretch our savings to cover an indefinite period of joblessness.

It’s hard to focus and write when you’re hurt, or angry.  In fact, I think I’ve been dealing with (or not dealing with) anger for several years now.

Richard Rohr says that you can’t really pray, you can’t practice God’s presence, when you’re angry.  I will attest to that.  Between my upset over the unexpected job loss and the upheaval in my schedule–my best time for prayer and scripture has also always been early morning–my prayers have been empty and dead for the past month.

Until this last weekend, that is.  This last weekend, I worked through anger and forgiveness over a few issues.  And then I was able to (again) sit down with my Bible and my pen and feel and hear God.

So: about anger and forgiveness and letting go of anger, … I’ll have more to say in my next post.

Richard Rohr’s Meditation, 1 July


More goodness from Albuquerque:

Original Shame and Original Blessing
Friday, July 1, 2016
Christians pinpoint “original sin” in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, even though the phrase is not in the Bible. I think a much truer description of Adam and Eve’s experience would be “original shame.” They hide when God comes looking for them, and when God asks why, they say they feel naked. Then God asks Adam and Eve, “Who told you that you were naked?” The implication is, “I sure didn’t.” A few verses later, we see a very nurturing image of God as seamstress, sewing garments and covering the two humans to protect them from their shame (see Genesis 3). How different than the much later and opposite notion of God shaming people for all eternity in hell. The older tradition reveals the deep mystery of transformation: God even uses our shame and pain to lead us closer to God’s loving heart. Of course! After forty-seven years now in active ministry, this has become obvious to me.
We live in a time of primal shame, and we don’t seem to know how to escape it. I find very few people who don’t feel stupid, inadequate, dirty, or unworthy today, even if they do not consciously admit it. When people come to me for counseling or confession, they ask in one form or another, “If people knew the things I think, the things I’ve said, the things I want to do, who would love me?” We all have had feelings of radical, foundational unworthiness. I’m sure they take ten thousand different forms, but the shame is usually there.
There is no ontological basis for holiness without mysticism; it is all behavioral and psychological. In spiritual direction, so many people start with the premise, “If I behave correctly, I will one day get God to love me or even notice me.” We tend toward this behavioral model. But the biblical tradition actually teaches that first we must see God clearly, often by experiencing God’s mercy for our bad behavior–and then our right behavior will follow. We first must encounter and experience God’s original blessing, choosing, and loving of us. If you start with original sin or shame, normally the pit is so deep you never get out of it. This is why more and more the modern world resents Christianity, as any child would understandably resent a foundationally rejecting parent. All the good theology in the world is not strong enough to overcome bad psychology and anthropology. Some reformers actually thought of human nature as “a pile of manure covered over with Christ” or of human beings as “totally depraved.” I am afraid this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let’s try preaching original blessing and see if that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy instead!