Our stressful world is full of a lot of angry people
It would appear that people are angrier than they used to be. Anger, we know, raises stress levels sends adrenaline and cortisol pumping around your body. And there would appear to be some very pumped up people in our world.
Management consultants run anger management workshops to diffuse office tension. The “Speaker” in the House of Commons has to rein in intemperate outbursts. Peaceful protests on the street turn violent as people vent their frustration.
I suspect that one of the reasons why the world feels angrier is because the modern life enables us to communicate instantly and globally with no necessary thought to human relationships that might be involved.
For example, read any news article online and then look at the thread of reader comments afterwards. Some of the vitriol and venom is shocking. And yet, meet those same people face to face and most would never dream of speaking in such a cavalier way.
If you remove the relationship with someone then you are able to bypass any awareness of how they may respond to what you are saying to vent your anger and frustration. Once in relationship with someone language become more tempered and measured.
The current media controversy as I write relates to twitter posts directed at a feminist campaigner, Caroline Criado-Perez, and the member of parliament Stella Creasy because they campaigned for a famous female face to be printed on the new banknotes. Torrents of abuse, including threats of rape and murder, have come their way. The finger has been pointed at censorship of the social media itself and Twitter have attempted to absolve themselves by saying that it is individuals who should be punished. Fair point. However providing a medium for uncensored and anonymous hate speech should also, perhaps, be considered culpable. In fairness, they have now acknowledged that point (see http://news.sky.com/story/1122451/twitter-admits-failing-rape-threat-women).
Of course, this is not the same thing as saying that anger is caused by relative anonymity of what we are able to say in a facebook, twitter, etc. However it does illustrate the point that there is a two-way link between a broken relationship contributing to anger and anger being able to be expressed and left unchecked where there is no relationship with the person against whom you are venting. As one write has put it: “A perfect storm engenders online rudeness, including virtual anonymity and thus a lack of accountability, physical distance and the medium of writing.”[i]
Ephesians 4:26 contains some very practical advice. If you go to bed angry you won’t sleep. First, sort it out, then with a clear conscience you will be more likely to sleep.
But Ephesians is saying much more: the quotation from Psalm 4 is set in the context of dealing fairly and faithfully with our neighbour, practically displacing anger (and other sins, v31) with conversation which will build people up and not tear them down (v29) and acting in kindness, compassion and forgiveness (v28, v32).
Anger is controlled when God is first in control of your heart. His anger is just and righteous because human attempts to dethrone him and puff ourselves up. His wrath is turned away when our sin is atoned for, and it is diffused in our lives when we love God best and our neighbour next.
Simplistic? Maybe. But some of the best wisdom is just that: think about the relationships that should be healed and built up with words and actions, and try not to speak into an anonymous vacuum. Relationships matter.