Following Your Feelings to God

Recently, I read James 1:19- 20 where he says to be slow to anger and that the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. I recalled Dallas Willard saying that whatever can be done in anger can be done better without it. I get his point—at least maybe it’s partially his point—that anger is not a good motivator. It might get someone moving, but it’s a weight to carry. It does seem like there are things in the world to be angry about, human trafficking, wage disparity, abuse in any form. That is the tip of the iceberg. And I see plenty of anger whenever I get on social media. Twitter, or X, is nothing but anger. I follow a few political people and some theologians and some sportswriters and it seems like most of them are angry. Others are angry at them. It’s everywhere I look, online or on the street. Anger is not achieving righteousness as far as I can tell.

And yet we do get angry. We are treated poorly or we see someone else treated poorly and we feel angry. And we should, right? It seems to be an automatic response. But how should we respond after the initial feeling? It seems to me the problem is staying in my anger and allowing it to grow. Perhaps the better thing to do is to allow my anger to take me to God and have a conversation with him about it. My anger cannot achieve the righteousness of God. But you know who can? God.

Several months ago my wife and I decided to watch a church service online. Our daughter’s team was scheduled to get home soon after church was over and we needed to pick her and some friends up. At the very beginning of the service one of the worship leaders said something and was not satisfied with the response. “Am I talking to an empty room?” he shouted. “I’m going to wake you up, church!” Immediately, I was angry. It seemed like over the top exuberance was the only acceptable response to him. But what about the people who walked in hurting that morning and were doing well just to be there? I was angry about these things and I seethed until the pastor got up to preach.

After church I went to pick up my daughter. She found me and expressed frustration and hurt that she and a teammate were yelled at while putting boats away. Kind, firm words would have worked just as well, but a coach seized the opportunity to respond in an angry, demeaning way. Seeing her hurt fueled my anger, once again.

But you know what I didn’t do? I did not take any of this to God. I could have talked to him about the anger I felt about the worship leader’s words. I could have turned to him with the hurt and sadness I felt for my daughter’s treatment. Instead, I let my anger grow and I nurtured thoughts about the demise of her coaches. I did not gain in righteousness.

The things I was angry about are minor compared to things like trafficking and abuse. When we see those things anger will be a normal response. Yet if we rely on anger alone it is possible we will become activists angrily pursuing a solution to the problem and in the end we will have been transformed by our anger rather than by God. Our character may be no better than those we disagree with and think are the worst sorts of people. Another Willardism: What God gets out of our lives—and, indeed, what we get out of our lives–is the person we become. Among other things, I want to become a person whose buttons are not so easily pushed. I want to be more like Jesus, who was in control of his responses.

Our character is transformed through encounters with the Trinity. When we are angry we have a choice, to feed our anger and feel justified in it or to talk to God about it and feel his care and his presence. Let’s choose Him.