There is a myth that emotions are irrational and uncontrollable. Certainly emotions are powerful and can be corrosive, but they are not uncontrollable. Grief, anger, fear, love, or gratitude can be cultivated and directed in a variety of ways and for distinct purposes. Today I will explore the myth that emotions are good or bad, positive or negative.
Our culture tends to see emotions in black and white terms. We think of joy, love, hope, peace as good or positive emotions while we categorize anger, guilt, resentment, envy, jealousy, grief and fear as negative or bad emotions. We think that to be angry is wrong and to be in love is right. But such strict categories does not reflect the reality of emotions as expressed in scripture.
In my last post I wrote about anger and an experience I had in a parking lot. I now see my angry reaction in that circumstance as a misuse of my passionate energy. However I don’t see all anger as wrong.
Years earlier I had a different kind of experience of anger in a parking lot. My wife and I had stopped at an A&W drive-in where root beer floats were served in large frosty glass mugs. The delicious drinks were brought to cars by the hard-working wait staff and then the mugs were picked up afterwards. As my wife and I enjoyed our floats, I noticed that a neighboring car was preparing to leave. As they finished their root beer, they placed the mugs on the floor of their car and the driver then quickly set the empty tray on the ground beside the car.
I felt a surge of anger swell within me. I thought, “They are trying to steal the glass mugs!” I yelled for a wait staff person, “Hey, that car is trying to steal your mugs.” I was upset that my neighbor was stealing and I wanted to prevent it. The waitress quickly returned and retrieved the mugs and I received some very dirty looks from the exiting driver.
Now in this situation I believe my anger was justified and my actions purposeful. I could have simply ignored the situation, “not my business,” but my sense of justice motivated me to act. The anger served as an energizing motivator to seek justice in this small situation. I think peaceful passivity would have been wrong in this situation while properly directed anger was more helpful.
There is a time and place for what I call “righteous anger,” when some injustice or unfair system needs to be confronted. Confrontation does not require violence, but rather the purpose of making things right. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in our nation was an expression of such righteous anger towards the injustice of racism.
Jesus demonstrated such anger when he confronted the merchants in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). The temple’s purpose had been subverted by this interchange and Jesus worked to make things right. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, not a marketplace of exchanged good.
Emotions are God-given gifts that need to be cultivated and directed towards God’s purposes.
Lord Jesus, harness the energy of my anger for your purposes.