I go about my day in shadow. The repetitive, monotonous sound of my shoes hitting the concrete leaves no impression on me except that it encourages cycling. Cycling of thoughts. They circle around my head like vultures that have caught the irresistible smell of death.
That is anger. It can feel like death.
“‘It would be better for me to die than to live…I am angry enough to die.’” Jonah 4:8, 9
Now that’s a quote I can hardily agree to. This week alone has embittered me and aged me considerably. Oh, Jonah, we’d be great friends right now.
Jonah was an interesting man. His Lord, the God Almighty, commanded him to go to Nineveh to preach to the people there that they should turn back to the Lord so he would withhold his coming wrath. Their sins had come up before God, and although God himself was angry, his bitterness was not born of sin. When he is furious, it is because he is light and the world is full of darkness. When darkness comes before the light there can only be contradiction.
God’s anger at humans is always for the same reason: we have chosen to do the wrong thing. This is the very same reason we are punished by God, and later, after death, judged.
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” Ephesians 5:6-10
Despite his knowledge of God’s anger for sinful acts, Jonah still ran. He didn’t want to preach to the people of Nineveh. He got on a ship headed to Tarshish with plans of, I suppose, hiding. Priscilla Shirer wrote a book and did a mini video series all about the book of Jonah. Shirer reasoned that Jonah may have disobeyed God because he was devoted to his country, Israel, and to help Nineveh would have been contrary to that.
Whatever his reasons were, Jonah fled. You are probably familiar with what happens next. A terrible storm raged and the crew was fearful that they had angered a god. They cast lots to see who had caused this calamity and the lots landed on Jonah. Jonah was sleeping below deck, amazingly, and the crew came and demanded to know what he had done to anger the gods. Jonah said he had angered his one god, the Lord God, who created the land and the sea (Jonah 1:9).
How about that? You’ve enraged the GOD OF THE SEA AND THE SEA IS RAGING. So this is why the crew is terrified. Jonah agreed to be cast off the ship, he was swallowed by a fish (maybe Megalodon), he resided inside the fish for three days and three nights, while inside Jonah admitted to God he’d sinned and then he praised God, the fish vomited Jonah onto a beach right back where he started, and then Jonah went to Nineveh and preached. The whole city turned to God and asked for mercy through prayer, fasting and wearing sackcloth.
So about that quote “being angry enough to die.” When did Jonah say that? He said it three times. The first time he cursed his own existence was right after he’d spoken to the people of Nineveh. He complained to God and said that this is why he’d tried to flee to Tarshish. God relented from his anger against the city because the people had turned from their sin. God then showed compassion on them and did not bring about the destruction he’d threatened.
Jonah was saying that no matter what he did, whether or not he’d spoken in Nineveh, God still saved the people and done what was right. So why did it matter what Jonah had done? Then Jonah said he’d prefer to be dead by this point.
Later, Jonah went east and made a shelter. He waited to see what would happen to the city. God showed mercy to his servant and on the shelter he’d made, God caused a vine to grow so as to shelter Jonah’s head from the sun. This greatly relieved Jonah, but the next day God sent a worm which ate the entire vine. God also sent a scorching wind to supplement the horrible heat of the sun which baked Jonah into frailty.
Jonah said he’d rather be dead. God asked him if he had any right to be angry about the vine to which Jonah replied yes, he was angry enough to die. Then God explained that if Jonah wanted the vine, why didn’t he tend to it? The vine came up one day and was gone the next. God compared the vine to Nineveh. Shouldn’t God care for Nineveh and the twenty thousand people within it?
And then the book of Jonah ends. It’s not even four pages long if you wish to read the whole story I recommend it. Jonah’s prayer is very moving, after all, and incidentally this event is powerful enough for Jesus to reference later in the New Testament (Matthew 16:4, Matthew 12:39, Luke 11:29-30).
Have you ever been as incensed as Jonah? I mean you’re so livid that you can’t think straight or you are just ticking seconds away from violence? Well, I’ve been there many a time. I’ve often said to myself, “You’ve got your mother’s temper.” If such a thing is biological or socially learned or both, whatever the case may be I really have the burning temperament of a dragon just like my mother.
Anger is the same as sadness in that it can be deliciously addicting. You can just keep turning the same malicious thoughts in your head and re-kindle that frustration over and over again. The embers never burn out and you’ve got this extra energy like you’re ready for a fight.
Eventually that energy wears off. I had been so mad for several days over the actions of some rogue male persons and I just kept thinking about it and talking about it. I became so emotionally drained that I slept for hours after the ordeal.
There are a few things to consider when anger comes dripping into your consciousness. Yes, human anger is a sin because it’s selfish, violent, aggressive, hostile and hateful. Those are all the rotten reasons for guilt. God is pure because his wrath is absent from these characteristics. He’s only concerned about injustice. By his nature, he’s compassionate, merciful, forgiving and caring.
“Have you any right to be angry?”
I remember hearing that humans become furious over the injustice of sin just like God does. That’s a remarkable thought, but as a human you are mostly going to make mistakes about a million on any given day so don’t start thinking you’ve found a loophole.
Another junction to consider: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
It is also his to judge. He will handle each according to his actions on earth. No matter what awful things have been done to you, or what you have done to yourself or others, nothing escapes God’s observance. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13
“From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” Psalm 33:13-15
God has certainly seen my broken and wayward heart. I’d even done what he asked. “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’” Mark 16:15-16
The “he” that is speaking in that quote is Jesus after he’d risen from the dead. He was telling the eleven remaining disciples to show faith and spread the gospel. I’d done that. To this friend, I shall call her Jenny (Flint), I’d given her something extremely intimate. An eternal thing, even if she forgets what it is it’s buried in her unconscious forever. What did I give her?
I gave her a story, and you may know the one I mean. I wove that story into a sticky web for someone to get caught in. It’s a previous post called “The Field.” Wretched awful time that was. Always get a bit pacey when it comes to mind. Depression does that to you.
Anyway, I typed up the letter to Jenny and gave it to her. She’d often made me spitting mad because of her unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. She’d said to me before, “The way you love God is the way I love my boyfriend.” Do you hear how insane that is? Do you know what happens when you make someone your world, your very air? If that person leaves you, hurts you or dies, guess what? You’re not a mess, no no that’s too soft of a thought. You’re delusional. You’re hopeless. You’re directionless.
Never ever put that kind of weight on somebody else. You may argue that this is exactly what Christians do with Jesus, in which case I have to say fuck you, Jesus is just a bit different than other people. JUST A LITTLE BIT. As if the son of God is a tiny title that anyone could easily carry.
Don’t go there.
You see that? Anger. Easy to touch, even easier to let settle.
Anyway. Jenny had this precious, intimate, unspeakable thing that I’d given her. It HURTS to tell someone a story like that. I mean, just speaking it brings it into existence and then it cuts you down the arms the whole time you’re telling it. We all hate these stories, but we rely on them and they’ve changed us. Internal scarring, you see.
So I wrote her a letter about a tragic calamity in my life. The darkest thing that had happened recently. A low of a low. It was hard to even acknowledge it had happened to me. I even felt inclined to believe it wasn’t real after I’d written it down. Human brains do that as a protective mechanism.
You know what Jenny said to me after she’d read my letter? She texted me, “It almost made me tear up. It was very sweet.”
Go and read “The Field.” Go and do that right now and then come back here and get that put in perspective. Sweet?! Are you out of your mind? Are you trying to be shy or casual or what? I was more than offended with that response. I wanted to put the whole bloody relationship on hold to consider if it would be a worthwhile investment in the future. That’s how cross I got.
I let that resentment deepen over the week. Whenever I saw Jenny or heard her name, I grit my teeth and felt the muscles in my arms and legs tense up as if I might rip a support beam out of the wall. It’s hard to avoid someone who not only shares a class with you, but has also infiltrated your friend group. She’s now friends with friends of mine. Tragedy, thy name is Jenny.
Anyway, when God had finally brought me back to the land of the living, I realized my error. Another thing to consider about anger: “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26-27
The devil had done just that and was he ever clever about it. He’d snuck in without making any kind of sound. He’d crept in and wrecked my heart.
“‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’” Exodus 33:19 with Romans 9:15 quoting.
I’m making a point here, hold on. So who does God have mercy and compassion on?
There are two kinds of humans. One kind has and always will belong to God. We are the wheat. The second kind has and always will belong to Satan. They are the weeds. The Parable of the Weeds explains this and it is right here if you want to read it yourself: Matthew 13:24-30
The disciple John also shows this segregation among humans through this verse: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” 1 John 4:6
So here’s the deal, my friends: Jesus tells his followers to spread the Word of God, but those who already belong to God are the only ones who will listen. I witnessed to Jenny and whether or not she belongs to God and will listen is a mystery to me and will be until I die, most likely.
“Have you any right to be angry?”
No. Whatever happens to Jenny is between her and God. As for me, I did what I was supposed to do and God help me if I have to witness to her again because I might just rip her head off if she tells me I’m being sweet.
Again, I’m not happy right now.
I’m at fault for multiple reasons, but to you and I bearing a grudge is serious business. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:15
God’s called us to be like him, like his son. A part of that process is forgiveness no matter how great the debt or how painful the affliction. You know in your heart that you are a filthy wretch just the same as any other person. Who do you think you are being self-righteous and pointing a finger at someone’s back? You’ve done terrible things and you’re on God’s bad list too. The moment you drew your first breath on this earth, you began to die because of the sickness of sin inside of you. You don’t stand a chance in front of the judgment seat of Christ with all the crimes you’ve committed, all the darkness you’ve welcomed.
This is why Jesus is so important. We need his forgiveness every single day because every single day we condemn ourselves.
“Have you any right to be angry?”
No, because you’re just as foolish and constantly making errors. So here’s the bottom line. Pray to God for strength against wrath. Ask for forgiveness when you screw up and sin. And when you have to forgive someone, even yourself, pray to God to help you to do this. YOU EVEN NEED GOD’S HELP TO FORGIVE SOMEONE. Otherwise, believe me you will still be pissed off.
Don’t wait, either. Because you’re feeding a parasite and you don’t even realize it.
Go on. You’ve got work to do.