Remember that anger is, at some point, a choice. We saw this same principle with temptation in the preceding chapter—the moment when the “escape hatch” swings open. In one defining moment, we can choose to put away the impure feelings, as Paul counsels us to do, or we can build a little nest. The moment we take note of an angry impulse and refuse to send it away, we’ve put the first twig into that nest. And we all know what happens in a nest sooner or later: Something hatches and flies out.
The Bible tells us not to let the sun set on our anger. That’s simply an eloquent way of saying to clear all your accounts before the day is over and to start each day with clean books. Enforce a twelve-hour limit on feelings of resentment; after that, they should be wiped as clean as God wipes your own sins. I’m not aware of a Bible paraphrase authored by Phyllis Diller, but I know she has said, “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight!” I hope she means to bring things out in the open and come to a righteous resolution. Wiping the slate clean isn’t the same as sweeping things under the bed.
If only it were easy to take this advice. But you may have noticed that of all the seven deadly sins, anger is the one that tastes the best. This is the one we actually enjoy; perhaps the word is that we savor our anger. We take it in, welcome it, build the nest—then we begin fantasizing speeches, thinking about how to get even, devising plans of attack. Peter, the policeman who opens this chapter, illustrates the danger of nurtured anger.
What happens when those fantasies take on a life of their own? They may conceivably become more than fantasies. Think of all the angry speeches you’ve devised as you lay tossing and turning in bed. What if you really said all the things that passed through your mind? Would you like them to be published in a book for your friends and family to read? I’m glad this publisher hasn’t done that little favor for me—that’s not a book I’m eager to put into print. It would cause me great sorrow and distress. Yet we enjoy composing those covert, undeliverable speeches; we savor our anger. It’s so hard to let go.
A ministerial friend counseled a woman who had been divorced for many years. After all this time, she was still attending divorce recovery semi-nars. She was still spouting off all her rage and bitterness about the husband who had abandoned her for another woman. The leader asked her, “Why can’t you move on with your life? Why can’t you let go of your anger?”
She replied, “Because it’s the only story I have.”
That’s a sad commentary. Sometimes we need to write “The End” on the story, unhappy ending and all, and begin a new and fresh chapter. Nurtured anger is no way to live. The grudge is a kind of cancer that attacks the soul, bringing with it feelings of dark cynicism. This is why we say anger is toxic—it becomes a poison that will eventually kill the spirit. Hebrews 12:15 warns us to be careful gardeners: We’re not to let any root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble, defiling the garden of our relationships.
Clear all accounts when the sun goes down. Realize that if someone owes you, you’re probably in debt as well—and be content to break even on the relationship books. We have to remember the Bible tells us to avoid any debt other than the debt of love.
David Jeremiah, Slaying the Giants in Your Life (Nashville, TN: W Pub., 2001), 12–14.
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