Anger. It runs like hot steam through the subterranean pipelines of our thoughts. The word “simmer” is overused with the idea of anger. There is truth in the word “simmer” however. Another fresher word to describe anger would be “hissing.” A hiss has a menacing sound, like the sound a snake or a steam pipe about to burst. A low grade anger that stirs in some dark corner for days gains size and force until it is able to break through our “nice” demeanor. I think anger in its youth can have a handsome face, but when it is neglected, pushed into a cell, and fed only poisons, its face turns cruel and violent.
Scripture speaks of an “angry” God. If anger were only bad, God could not exhibit it. God cannot be other than God. Therefore, anger is sometimes righteous and rightly expressed. If you or I are hurt by an injustice, anger is a good response. If I act according to ethics and law to redress the injustice, driven by my anger, my anger serves a good purpose.
Anger Gets Personal
I have been angry recently. My anger has been secretly directly at a Christian woman in my weekly bible study group. She is a good woman, and a sincere believer. She has been a Christian from her earliest childhood. Her religious background is conservative and evangelical. She places primary importance on Scripture as the source of Truth. She adheres closely to the literal meanings of the statements found in the Old and New Testaments. I believe she is fearful and insecure about any deviation from literal reading. I suspect she shares these convictions with many other Christians.
My anger derives not from her viewpoints, but her attempt to defend those viewpoints by policing the ideas of others who do not share them exactly. An example is my use of the pronoun “she” in referring to God. Our topic was derived from 1 John 17: who has seen God? How can we relate to an unseen Supreme Being? In this discussion, I interchangeably used “He” and “She.” My fellow believer was offended and defensive. She insisted, correctly, that nowhere in Scripture is God referred to as “she.” I conceded that point, but also pointed out that Jesus stated that in heaven there would be neither male nor female. I asked her, “Do you really think God is equipped with male genitals?” My co-believer had challenged me in the past in similar manner when I asked questions or used metaphors that did not follow her ideas of scriptural accuracy.
The young face of my anger grew old and distorted in the weeks and months that followed. The “correct use of pronouns” incident was a sharp poke that caused my anger to leap from the floor of its cell, and break forth during the Bible study. My voice was not loud, but its tone was cold and accusatory. It lacked love or grace, and its purpose was not to find harmony, but to vindicate. Oh, the expression felt good. The assertion of my freedom of thought was satisfying, and remains so. My dignity was restored. I was authentic. All of these virtues do not remove the ugly face of my anger, which was to hurt her, for she had hurt me. Perhaps this is the anger of the atheist as well in his refutation of a hurtful God.
The Temptation of Anger
There is this intriguing component of the “Lord’s prayer,” — “Lead us not into temptation.” The wording is confusing to me. Why would God lead us into temptation, and why do we need to pray for Her to refrain from doing so? What kind of God is that? [Do you get the flavor of why my evangelical purist friend might find me irritating?] I presently interpret that prayerful phrase to mean that if we can learn virtue without being exposed to vice, may it be. In my “pronoun incident” what can I learn, having been led into the temptation of my anger? What might I gain by grasping that lesson without re-entering the vice of vindication?
Now my friend and I are at a crossroads. Will we reconcile or split? Will the Bible Study Group that witnessed the harsh exchange decline or grow from the experience? These questions apply in marriages and corporate board rooms. They apply in our relationship with God.
But the moment we have defined a person, we have ceased to that extent to know that person more deeply and accurately. The person is imprisoned in our bias. The same is true of an idea. If I define God by the literal statements of poetry, history, proverbs, and parables found in Scripture, I have limited God all around by my biases. I have elected to have a relationship with some static pre-formed notion of God. Managing God in this way is so attractive because it puts everything in order according to our needs and expectations.
When God reveals Herself in some degree beyond our comforting biases, we rebel. A God who not a comforting benevolent grandfather, but who is a wildly creative jokester, is no God at all. Or perhaps more to the point of human experience, a God who has some divine purpose for sin and suffering we quickly tag as malicious or cruel. Or maybe, feeling generous, we tag Her as simply inept.
Anger and Bias
We know what we experience. Knowledge is grounded in the senses. What we experience gives rise to memories and imagination, and from those we extrapolate new mental and emotional experiences. This “experience” of God begins with the experience of human love, human virtue and human goodness, allowing us to extrapolate these qualities into our construction of God. Later, we assert we experience the “goodness,” and “love” of God. We are as convinced of this spiritual reality as we are of any physical reality. How can this be? How can we love and trust God, whom we have never seen? Indeed, how can we experience God at all when our physical senses are completely useless to perceive a Being within a vastly different dimension? If I deal with this conundrum by playing with pronouns and metaphors, am I a heretic?
A Conclusion to Anger
Returning to the “pronoun incident” with my believer-friend, the silliness of our dispute is evident. We each have biases that we have inherited over millennia of culture. Immersed in this sea of biases, we simply cannot know what we do not know. Progress in freedom of thought is generally not an individual achievement, but the gradual advancement of generations. Until there is such a major societal shift, individual conversations continue in the same darkness. My friend and I have a dispute over whether God has gender. It is a non-productive debate leading no where but to division and resentment. The important point of the dispute is this question however: Can each of us tolerate the depth of ignorance by which we daily live? Can we allow for an honest intellectual and emotional struggle? Can we move beyond the comfortable boundaries of our biases?