Whenever you or I lose our tempers, it means we’ve gone from wanting some good thing, to demanding that we must have it or else. Sinful anger is so convinced of its own moral high ground that it feels perfectly justified visiting its wrath upon whatever, or whomever, has dared to transgress absolute justice (i.e., us getting whatever it is we want at that moment). Thus, while we may sometimes be “right” about the issue, giving anger total control of our response to a problem will always be destructive and sinful. “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).
Anger in the Saddle
Losing your temper is a lot like losing your car keys—you never choose to and it always seems to happen at the worst moments. For some “losing your temper” means yelling, swearing, pounding a fist on the table. For others, lost temper is barely perceptible: a tightening of the jaw, a cold silence, but the angry feelings are still swarming, just hidden away inside.
Whatever our style, we all lose our temper sometimes. By “lose our temper,” I simply mean that you and I sometimes hand the reins of our behavior over to the feelings of anger in our soul. As your body begins to pump adrenaline, expand blood vessels, and tense muscles for a fight, your desire to feel vindicated (though all too often later reflection reveals you weren’t nearly so far up the moral high ground as you’d thought) takes over and hands you your script. Fundamentally, losing your temper means you’ve placed anger in the saddle and you are now galloping along at its command.
Why Does This Happen?
Despite the thousand coats anger may wear, anger is simple at its core. Anger always passes moral judgment. It is the moral emotion. Anger says “what just happened was wrong.” Now our anger may be accurate in its judgment of right and wrong or it may be out to lunch. For example, my children may get mad because I’m exasperating them, or they may get mad because I’m putting them to bed at a reasonable hour when they wanted to stay up. Either way, the core cry of anger is “That is unjust! That is evil! I condemn that!”
James 4:1–2 lays out the basic dynamic at play in our sinful anger. “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James asks. “Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” In essence, James is saying that our anger condemns anything that comes between us and what we want.