Definition of anger and causes
Christian scholars and secular scholars have different viewpoints on what causes anger. Dale Miller (2001) points to the problem of placing an invariant relationship between anger and injustice. Studies support the position that the perception of injustice leads to anger and that anger seems to trigger an alarm that an injustice has been committed. Miller shows this is the reason people are more likely to retaliate, and that it is a basic justification for their anger if the actions against them are perceived as unjust. He relates disrespectful treatment to anger arousal more than the perception of injustice rouses anger. He cites numerous scholars who view justice through the filters of need, equity, and equality which result in anger expression when violated. Christians do not have this narrow view since our God is a just God. Our sense of justice is therefore as broad as our God. However, we are not as balanced as God, therefore our anger is roused by perceptions of injustice and our expressions of anger are never as self-controlled or long suffering as God’s.
When the balance of justice is shifted weighing heavily toward one and away from another, the shift creates a perception of a state of unfairness within the human mind which can be expressed in different forms such as a power quest to shift the balance toward one’s self, and anger toward the offender, or a confrontation in an effort to rebalance the shift. Andrew Lester defines anger as the “physical, mental and emotional arousal pattern that occurs in response to a perceived threat to the self characterized by the desire to attack or defend” (Lester, 2003, p. 85), with the understanding that self includes all the components belonging to self: people (loved ones to acquaintances), ideas (values and beliefs), and things (property to favorite sports teams) (Lester, 1981). Gary Chapman defines anger as “a cluster of emotions involving the mind, body, and the will…[and] is a response to some event or situation in life that causes us irritation, frustration, pain, or other displeasure…fed by feelings of disappointment, hurt, rejection and embarrassment” (Chapman, 2007). Christian authors have the same basic viewpoint of anger and how it is communicated, but their definitions and causes of anger are at slight variance. However, if anger is viewed through the lens of a violation of our sense of justice, the dissonance among the definitions is resolved.
When any object, person, or idea (Lester, 1981) that we consider our own is threatened, the threat extends into the personal realm and causes apprehension, alarm and anger in our breast. It is perceived injustice to self which causes that misguided passion so we let loose control of our fury. We come by that fury honestly because anger is one of God’s emotions, and Christians know there will be a Day of Wrath against all injustice and those who have rejected His Son, Jesus. Both Chapman and Lester call attention to the fact Christians are taught anger is evil and sinful. Therefore, to keep away from sin, “Christians have been implicitly and explicitly taught to deny and suppress angry feelings. This suppressed anger has caused untold pain and suffering” (Lester, 1981, p. 563).
A study on reasons for anger uncovered eleven anger inducing themes. Turner, Skubisz, Yao, Wang, and Xie (2009) identified them as “ego of extended self, system failures, interruption of routine activities, violation of social norms, goal incongruence, discrimination, negatively violated expectations, injustice, ignorance, political injustice, first hand emotions, and deception” (p. 9) with deception causing more intense anger, and face-threat the second. Some of these themes are remarkably similar to Lester’s expanded self. Turner et al’s study is related to violations of our sense of justice and expressed by anger when directed against self.
Saul’s sense of justice had been bruised by the Christians’ following the “upstart” Jesus. He believed Jesus was not the Messiah. Therefore he had a personal mission to set things straight; never realizing that only God can make the crooked straight. Paul traveled down the road to Damascus breathing fire and murder, a scriptural Godzilla. The Christians trembling in Damascus were at a dialectical impasse with the Jews’ opposition of Jesus. They knew Jesus is the Son of God, and were being persecuted for teaching it. “Disputants [are] likely to interpret the issues which separate them in drastically different ways, but their interpretations of their opponents' actions merely fuel the escalation of the conflict by reinforcing their own perceptions. Each sees the other's arguments and actions as foolish, irrelevant, or evil” (Pearce, Littlejohn, & Alexander, 1987), and thereby their study depicts the essence of anger plugging up the ears. This isn’t just from the Christian Right to the “immoral” political realm. A Christian will do it to another Christian because he believes he has a moral duty to wipe out wrong thinking. Therefore, moral dissonance will promote anger expression such as the Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority’s anger against an amoral political arena with the sad result of unresolved conflict (Pearce et al).
Where anger comes from
God gave us the emotion of anger. He has this same emotion and His wrath will most definitely be aimed at all the earth’s inhabitants on the Day of Judgment. When our sense of justice is bruised, anger springs up and we have an urge to do something about that injustice. Chapman says anger is a godly emotion that can be skewed because of our human nature. Only the Holy Spirit can help us discern the difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. We feel that urge to speak up or to stand up for what is right and godly to rectify the injustices we face, and only the guidance of the Holy Spirit can keep us from departing the path lit by the Light of God onto that dangerous road to Damascus.