I love superhero movies. I don’t think I’m alone, considering that the Marvel movies have made nearly $20 billion at the box office. It’s fun to think about what it would be like to fly like Superman, fight like Captain America, shoot webs like Spiderman, don a super suit like Iron Man, or have an endless supply of high-tech gadgets like Batman. But as fun as it is to dream about what life would be like as one of those superheroes, I think the most relatable superhero is one we haven’t mentioned.
I know what it feels like to be the Hulk.
“No, you don’t,” you’re thinking. “You’re 5’ 8” and 160 pounds. I’ve seen squirrels with more muscle than you.” Well, you’re right. I don’t know what it feels like to bench press a school bus or have my clothing shredded when I flex. But I do know what it feels like to get angry. Maybe you do, too.
First, I feel the shock of a broken expectation. Then my face gets hot. I feel my temperature rising, my cheeks become flushed, red and hot. My stomach ties itself into a knot as a dark cloud fogs over my mind. Rational thoughts leave my brain as I begin to fantasize about everything I want to say to whoever offended me. You can practically see me turning green, morphing from a reasonable man into a raging monster.
Maybe you’ve had some “Hulk” moments, too. If so, maybe you’re wondering (as Bruce Banner and I have often wondered), “Why am I so angry?”
My Dad taught me that anger is not a “primary emotion.” In other words, anger does not exist on its own. It is always the product of a mixture of other emotions, in the same way that the color green does not exist on its own but is the product of a mixture of the colors blue and yellow. Therefore, when we feel angry, it is important for us to take a hard look at what the “colors” are that are causing our anger. Here are some of the most common reasons why you might be angry:
YOU FEEL HELPLESS
One of the most common emotions causing our anger is fear. If you feel as though a situation is out of your control, like there is nothing you can do to make it right or protect yourself, you may simply react in anger. This fear-based anger often shows itself in sudden bursts of emotion upon being confronted by your fear. The apostle Peter experienced fear-based anger in Mark 14:71. He was in the courtyard outside the home where Jesus was on trial. When a servant girl and some others confronted him about being a follower of Jesus, Peter was likely scared that if his identity was discovered that he would be captured as well. So, feeling scared and helpless, “He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.” Peter’s fear resulted in an angry Hulk-like outburst of rage and deceit. Perhaps you have an unaddressed fear underneath your anger?
YOU FEEL EMBARRASSED
Perhaps your anger is motivated by pride. When you feel as though your image has been tarnished or your reputation is at stake, it may cause you to react with anger. When your kids misbehave in public, your spouse says something silly in front of someone you respect, or a coworker points out a mistake you made at work, your gut reaction might be anger. If that’s so, then pride is likely the motivating factor beneath your frustration. In the story of Esther, the evil henchman Haman was “filled with rage” because a Jew named Mordecai did not show Haman the respect he thought he deserved (Esther 5:9). Later, when Haman is forced to humble himself and exalt Mordecai, he is humiliated and throws a murderous temper tantrum. Why? Because he felt embarrassed, like his reputation had been damaged. Is there pride underneath your temper?
YOU FEEL VICTIMIZED
This may be the most common cause of anger for all of us. We feel victimized, wronged, slighted. We feel like we are innocent victims and that someone committed an undeserved crime against us. So as a result of this offense, we put ourselves in the judge’s seat and the perpetrator on the witness stand. After a very short trial, we declare them guilty and deserving of punishment. Our anger is that punishment. This punishment manifests itself in many different ways: the silent treatment, passive-aggressive remarks, physical violence, emotional manipulation, yelling, slamming things, talking behind the person’s back, holding onto a grudge, bitter thoughts, unforgiveness, and many other anger-based behaviors. This is the kind of anger Esau held for his brother Jacob after Jacob deceived his father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Esau felt wronged and slighted. He felt like he was completely innocent and had done nothing to deserve Jacob’s evil misdeed. Genesis 27:41 says, “Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given to him. He said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” Take a look at your anger. Perhaps you are angry because you feel like an innocent victim persecuted by a guilty person who deserves punishment.
Hopefully you’ve been able to identify some of the emotions underneath your anger. So now what? The Bible makes it very clear that not all anger is bad and that our anger can be handled healthily. So, after identifying the cause of your anger, here are a few biblical principles to help you learn to deal with your anger in a healthy way:
Deal with your anger quickly; don’t let it linger. “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” –Ephesians 4:26-27
Use your words to attack the problem, not the other person. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” –Ephesians 4:29
Forgive others like you want God to forgive you. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” –Matthew 6:14-15
Remember that God is the Righteous Judge, not you. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” –James 4:12
Love your enemy. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If you enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” –Romans 12:17-21
Seek to understand before you seek to be understood. “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” –James 1:19-20
Speak softly and thoughtfully. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” –Proverbs 15:1
Confess your anger and ask for help. “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” –Proverbs 28:13
Remember how God has treated you. “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” –Psalm 103:8-12
With God’s help, “Hulks” like us can become forgivers like Jesus.