Words – even at this late stage in the long defeat of the West – mean something. And something that helps us to get a Biblical perspective on things is to get the words right. Using the proper word for what we’re experiencing allows us to quickly identify the problem. We’re good lawyers in our own defense, though, and often we know that we’re sinning, so we’ll hide behind a wall of vague words that obscure what’s really going on in our hearts.
Offended, frustrated, annoyed, put out, upset, irritated, enraged…
No, you’re not. What you are is called angry, and from here you can handle it righteously or sinfully. In righteousness you’ll respond either justly or graciously, depending on the circumstance and your role in the relationship. If you have some role of authority in regards to the offender (ie, a policeman or parent) you’ll need to consider the just response. A lack of accountability is not gracious, but that’s a different blog post. If the offender is your authoritative equal – say, a fellow member or attender of your church – you’ll need to respond graciously. You’re even allowed to overlook the offense altogether, sacrificing your right to be angry to the Lord – true story! Responding in sin leads to, say, posting on Facebook about how offended you are [that is, angry] and how terrible the offender is. Or constantly thinking about how you’ve been wronged. You might really be a detail person. But we tend to be very detailed people when it comes to those who’ve offended us.
Anger, handled unrighteously and given time to fester, grows into bitterness. The offender doesn’t “rub you the wrong way,” or “irritate” you. They don’t make you angry, either. The anger comes from in you and nowhere else. You’re bitter, and at this point your sin has become the problem you need to deal with immediately. Biblically, you do this by forgiving the offender and confessing your bitterness as sin before the Lord. You are going to spend the rest of your life on earth bumping into other sinners, and sometimes it will feel like everyone is in a race to sin against others faster than they can get sinned against. You need a plan to deal with this: know your heart, your tendencies toward anger and bitterness, and be ready to confess. Constantly.
I know I barely scratched the surface here of our various euphemisms for anger and bitterness, so feel free to post yours in the comments. One thing about all our euphemisms a good friend pointed out to me… you won’t find any of them in Galatians 5 where the fruit of the Spirit are listed. Something to think about.
*edit* Here’s a great booklet by a pastor named Jim Wilson (along with a couple others) on anger and bitterness. These are sins worthy of our attention, so common are they in our lives and our culture.
Next time on Getting the Words Right, we’ll tackle tolerance.