Ps 140:1-2, 10 – anger
Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers;
protect me from the violent,
who devise evil plans in their hearts
and stir up war every day.
May burning coals fall on them;
may they be thrown into the fire,
into miry pits, never to rise.
The honesty of the psalmists emotions can be disturbing when it ventures into anger, especially when that anger is expressed violently. Monday's psalm, 137, ends with the image of Babylonian babies be thrown against rocks! Today, we see an expression of anger only slightly less disturbing, 'may they be thrown into the fire...' Our most natural reaction is to cringe and promise to never read that psalm again, or at least that verse of the psalm.
But anger is a natural emotion. Denying that we are angry is dangerous. We all have had experiences where either we or someone we know has habitually suppressed frustration and anger and we know what happens. It gets stored, festers, even grows and eventually gets expressed. And this expression is neither healthy or helpful. Crying out in anger to God in the midst of pain, suffering and injustice is a gift. Anger offered to God is less likely to be dangerous and unhealthy and actually, can be transformed from destructive to constructive, from vengeful to reconciling.
In terms of spiritual health, taking our hurt and anger to God in prayer accomplishes much. When we vent our frustration and suffering we actually can learn about our truest selves, our values and our unresolved hurts. We discover facets of our lives and relations that we have made peace with but which do not actually make for peace. As we speak and then listen might even learn that our anger isn't toward the target we assumed but is a reaction to another person or situation. When we complain and listen deeply, The Spirit can lead us from a place a fear (which is what inspires anger) to an attitude of trust in God. Even in this moment of pain, God is with me. Even in this injustice and unfairness, God is working. And when we realize that we can trust that God is working, as Paul said, 'all things work together for good,' our anger is not destructive, but constructive. Anger, when spoken and then baptized in prayer, isn't harmful or debilitative, but an energizing force that empowers us to address a change that we need in our own lives, or to advocate for growth in our relationships and even society.
It is important for us to pause and contemplate the fact that while today's psalm contains a great deal of anger, even violent anger, it concludes in a much different place. The psalmist, through expressing anger, is lead by the Spirit to an emotion and experience of assurance. 'I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor, and upholds the cause of the needy,' the psalmist proclaims. And this is perhaps what we need to be reminded of. Anger turns to violence when we are threatened and feel that there is no protection, no justice, no viable response to the threat other than the fight. The psalmist discovers through offering anger to God in prayer, that they are no alone or abandoned to be a perpetual victim. God is an active listening and ready responder to those who suffer unjustly. In this age of 'stand-your-ground' laws and the propensity for politicians to manipulate us with the threat of violence that only they can respond to (often with force), we would do well to remember that we do not trust in force, but God, to protect and guide us. Not only that, be we trust that God can use the threat to lead us to new life and fresh faith.
Prayer – Teach us to no longer be ashamed of our anger, God of mercy and of passion. Lead us in offering every emotion, even anger to you in our prayer and contemplation, that we might be shaped and energized to be your representatives of reconciliation in an angry and violent world. Give us the courage to question our anger, to learn from it, and to see it transformed into another tool which you can use to see your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.