Dealing with Anger
Are any of us free from anger? Either we have been angry at someone or we have been victims of someone’s anger. Some are able to let go off anger quite fast but others hold on to it for days, months, and even years. We hold onto it in spite of being aware of its effect on our mind and body and on our relationships. Is it alright to be angry? Can spiritual life and anger coexist? Is there a righteous anger?
Some are of the opinion that it is a sin to get angry: But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna (Mt 5:22). But others differ, drawing our attention to Jesus’ strong words to the Priests and the Pharisees and in particular to his action in the temple: He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (Jn 2: 15). Both the groups refer back to Jesus, his words, and action. How do we reconcile these two apparent opposites?
I don’t have the expertise to look at anger from a psychological point of view. My interest is to understand it from a spiritual perspective, hoping, that the few thoughts shared here will enable you to look at our own anger (s) from a spiritual perspective and deal with it.
Let us pose the question to Jesus himself: “Jesus how did you deal with anger? Was your action in the temple justifiable?” The answer to the question lies in accepting Jesus in his totality and that includes even the scene in the temple. Jesus is not a buffet meal where we can pick and choose. He comes as a total package. We must not situate the temple scene as an isolated event but let us place it in the context of the person that Jesus was and his mission.
Did Jesus get angry in the Temple (Jn 2)? His corrective action shows that he was upset and angry with what the merchants and the money changers were doing at the temple. His words and the ensuing action were an expression of his anger (also recall his harsh words to the Pharisees, the Priests, and the Scribes throughout the gospel) at what they did in the temple area. Reflection on ‘Jesus’ action in the Temple’ makes me realize that I don’t have to lose my peace if my corrective action of someone is perceived as an act of anger. But the most important question is where does Jesus’ anger come from? What is the source of his anger? Was it a mere reaction to the moment or a response from a loving heart for the good of the other?
One of the salient features of Jesus’ revelation is that God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and Jesus is the incarnation of that divine love. Jesus is love and love is Jesus. He related to everyone from the center; love. Love defined his thoughts, words, and actions. He did not relate to people from the plane of right and wrong as the priests and the Pharisees did. Jesus transcends the moral plane and responds from the field of love, kindness, and compassion. Love was the fulcrum around which his life revolved. No wonder Jesus could reach out to the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the outcasts, and the sinners and it was his unconditional love that transformed them.
Jesus’ action in the temple does not stem from the seat of righteousness; that he is right and they are wrong. Such a moral and an egoistic attitude would definitely segregate and divide people and Jesus refuses to go down that path. If we are honest with ourselves, most of our anger arises from ‘I am right, you are wrong.’ Don’t we get angry when someone does not accept our position (observe the words and language we use when we are angry)? This anger originates from ego and ego divides people.
Jesus’ action in the temple is corrective in nature but his heart is filled with love and compassion even for the merchants and the money changers. While his action appears to be one of anger but the source of his action is love. His intention is pure. It is love as he encounters them, it is love as he drives them out, and it is the same love that hopes that they would understand his actions and return to him to experience his unconditional love. As loving parents don’t you do the same? When you correct (vocal or physical) a child, the corrective action is purely out of love for the child. It is love that is manifested in that corrective action. A child can see through a punishment that is born out of love and a mere corporal punishment as a reaction to what the child did. I am sure you have heard of ‘tough love.’ Probably you are also familiar with the Buddhist compassionate stick used during the meditation sessions. I am reminded of the many stories of meditation masters whose words and actions might appear to be abusive but indeed they are meant to arouse in the disciples their true Buddha nature.
Let me share a personal example. I must have been in the fourth or the fifth grade. As a student I was quite studious but my immediate older brother who was more into sports wouldn’t hesitate to skip school. One day, on our way to school, he invited me to skip school and play with his friends. Initially I was hesitant but he assured me that it is just for a day and no one will ever find out. I went along with him and his friends, but to my bad luck, my cousin who happened to be passing that side saw me playing and reported it to my father. When I went back home in the evening my father made me kneel and spanked me on my bottom and my feet. It was painful. Later that evening, before going to bed, he called me aside and said to me, “You are a good student and God expects the best from you, and don’t get into the habit of skipping school.” His corrective action (though painful) was born out of his genuine concern and love for me and welfare. His ego was not there. Today, looking back, I am grateful to my father.
Have love for everyone in your heart. Cultivate and deepen that love. Love alone is our true nature. Let all that we say and do arise out of a heart that is compassionate and kind. St. Augustine is right when he said, “Love and do what you will.” When we love God and love others genuinely (imitating Christ’s love) then what we do can never be wrong. It will always be for the good of the other.
Let us not get stuck in the playing field of right/wrong. Let us drop anger that arises out of righteousness and egoism. Let us live and act out of God’s field which is defined by love alone.
This is my prayer for you and me.