Thursday, September 12, 2013

Anger and the Imitatio Dei

I think it would be correct to say that the vast majority of our expressions of sinful anger are due to perceived slights on self-constructed notions of our own honor, dignity, and worth. But what if this sense of self-honor is one that is borne out of a valuing of what the Word of God declares to be the sole ground of true honor—the imitation of God (Matt. 5:48)?

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

I propose that in order to overcome sinful anger (along with other sinful emotions), one must not consider a bare appeal to a set of abstract virtues as desirable in and of themselves (the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma), but that the one who has God as the chief object of his desire longs for patience and self-control precisely because God Himself is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6).

In other words, just as my two sons (a 5-yr.-old and a 2-yr.-old) worship the ground that I walk on (in a manner of speaking), children of God should long for the family resemblance to become ingrained in their characters in ever-increasing measure, and thus manifested, because they are indeed sons of God through the benefit of adoption in Christ.

The ff. is from a great commentary on Proverbs—a book of Scripture that has a lot to say about anger(!):

Anger (15:18; 16:14; 19:11, 12, 19; 21:19; 25:23; 27:3– 4; 29:8, 22)

Proverbs overall advocates a temperate expression of emotion. We thus are not surprised that anger is identified as a destructive emotion when it is out of control.

Wrath is cruel, and anger is a flood, and who can stand up in the face of jealousy? (27: 4)

Anger destroys familial and community relationships. It is better to live in a desolate wilderness, for instance, than with an angry woman (21: 19). The wise will not only control this emotion in themselves but will also seek to minimize it in others. In terms of the latter, the king is specifically mentioned because his anger can cause the greatest harm:

The anger of a king is a messenger of death; the wise will appease it. (16: 14)

Appropriate Expression of Emotions (12:16; 14:29, 30; 16:32; 17:27; 19:11; 25:28; 29:11)

The wise person is coolheaded, the fool an impetuous hothead. In the same way that the wise are sparing in speech, so they are sparing in emotional expression. It is not that the wise are emotionless or that they don’t express anger or disappointment, but they do so in a way that is appropriate to the context. They don’t blow up in anger, though they may get angry. Moderate expressions of emotions allow the wise to think and strategize. Emotions don’t cloud their thinking. They are still able to navigate life. Another way to put this is that the wise are patient, whereas fools are impatient.

Patience brings much competence, but impatience promotes stupidity. (14: 29)

A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who control their emotions than those who can capture a city. (16: 32)

Those who hold back their speech know wisdom, and those who are coolheaded are people of understanding. (17: 27)

(Tremper Longman III, Proverbs [Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms], Appendix: Topical Studies)

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