When, by the gospel, our horizons are stretched to eternity, the annoyances of the immediate are not so provocative.
As the world careens even closer to an end prophecy has warned us about, people are only becoming worse—sicker, unhappier, and yes, angrier. Yet here we are with a job to do. How do we shine light in darkness, heal where there is hurt, and give to the angry that which they need to find peace again? Here are two perspectives on how we can minister to an angry world.—Editors.
In an Angry World, What Can We Do?
The gospel gives us the assurance we need to do better.
Neither Google nor a dictionary are needed to define or discover anger. We all know what it looks like, what it sounds like, and how it feels. Feeling the full weight of someone’s anger can be disturbing, shocking, confronting—terrifying!
Anger brings with it a tension that fills the air. “You could cut the air with a knife!” goes the idiom describing the eerie vibe of an angry situation.
Dogs can sense human anger, and they typically slink from the turbulent scene with lowered heads and loins in search of safety. Cats know it too, and silently steal away to avoid the proverbial “kick.”
But there are some who are trapped, not dogs or cats, but human beings—who are innocent but stuck in the realm of an angry person, and they can’t escape. My heart goes out to these victims and their misery. Who deserves to be trapped in this kind of world?
I also have compassion for those who suffer from anger that isn’t external but internal. The storm possesses their chests, heads, and hands with gusts, thunder, and lightning. All control is lost. It must be miserable to be possessed by such a perpetual storm where there’s seldom a calm. We know these “sons of thunder”; we know their fuses are short and the explosions can seem atomic.
Anger isn’t a new human condition. Anger surfaces in our Bible as early as Genesis 4:5 with Cain’s pride-laden but rejected sacrifice. Anger persists through our Bible into Revelation, where we have the memorable words “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17).
For generations Adventists have sung, “Nations are angry—by this we do know Jesus is coming again!”* While some doubt climatic global warming, few doubt that our planet is heating up in terms of anger.
STAYING ABOVE THE FRAY
Rudyard Kipling had a point when he penned to his son: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, . . . you’ll be a man, my son.”
This advice seems to share some similarities with: “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Eccl. 7:9, NIV). There is also the well-known “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). It seems one of the best things we can do is avoid being angry ourselves.
It’s been observed that people become angry when they are in trouble or distress, or are grieving. These are the very times ministry should take place—when people are in trouble, distress, or grief. Yet when people are angry, we often instinctively keep away. Make no mistake: angry people can be dangerous people—the death of Abel at the hands of an angry Cain still speaks to the dangers.
However, the reality of the gospel transforms people! It changes how they react to stressors. When we have the ultimate surety, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38, 39), our reasons for anger dissipate. When, by the gospel, our horizons are stretched to eternity, the annoyances of the immediate are not so provocative.
There is an important difference between anger and indignation. Injustice, wickedness, and misconduct are the causes of indignation. It is this indignation that is the catalyst for appropriate correction and reformation.
It was wickedness and misconduct that prompted Jesus to overturn the money changers’ tables in the Temple. It was the injustices, wickedness, and misconduct within the prominent church of the Middle Ages that inspired people to share the Bible and its truths so that the real beauty of Jesus could be seen and experienced by ordinary Christians.
Tragically, injustice, wickedness, and misconduct didn’t stop in the Middle Ages. These evils are alive, numerous, and global! While we would love to correct every injustice on our aging planet, and we should try our best, and our inability to do so can torment us, we have the absolute assurance that Jesus, who knows every injustice in minute detail, is coming again! He returns with power—righteous and holy power—and will ultimately resurrect all, judge all, and implement pure justice for all.
It is this irrevocable assurance that our angry world needs to hear from us.
* “Jesus Is Coming Again,” The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, no. 213.
Anthony Kent is an associate secretary of the Ministerial Association of the General Conference.
Out of the Abundance of the Heart
The intensity behind the words uttered out of my mouth shocked me; the action that followed surprised me even more.
Hand raised, I slammed my palm against my horn, conveying my annoyance. The driver of a white SUV ahead of me seemed distracted, oblivious to the line of vehicles behind him. We were all waiting to make a left turn. For two cycles the green arrow indicating that it was safe to do so turned yellow and then red. Engines revved and horns blared as impatience intensified. Although I was simply heading home, the mild irritation soon spiraled to intense fury at “people who don’t pay attention!” When the light turned green for the third time, and before I knew it, I too was honking my horn and yelling at the driver.
Anger—that well-known human emotion—can range from slight annoyance to irrational rage.¹ Our world has grown increasingly angry. Globally, rates of hostility and rage were highest in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, these emotions have been on the increase for the past 10 years.² From road rage to unprovoked attacks in public places, we see small annoyances escalating into violent confrontations. We are inundated with angry headlines and surrounded by angry voices ranting over the airwaves. We sense the rise in emotional tension in crowded spaces—airports, grocery stores, public transportation—as we all learn to navigate social distancing and mask requirements in an ever-changing pandemic.
Insidiously, this inescapable anger can creep into our psyche and impact the way we interact with others. As followers of Christ, we are called to love, to be peacemakers (John 13:34; Matt. 5:9). In a world rife with anger and its counterparts of fear, frustration, sadness, and worry, we are called to attend to the needs of others. Yet how do we live in an angry world without absorbing its toxic anger and spite? How do we minister amid the daily annoyances and rage-inducing circumstances that are part of life on this planet?
We reach up to God and pursue peace (Heb. 12:14). Daily we are invited to spend time in the presence of the One who is peace (Eph. 2:14), and, moment by moment, we want to align with God’s Spirit, who produces in us love, peace, patience, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-25). Daily we are called to surrender to the One who can renew our minds and transform actions and interactions (Eph. 5:1, 2).
We look within and accept God’s gift of grace (Eph. 2:8, 9).
In God’s presence our weaknesses are exposed, and we see our need for help to conquer our human shortcomings.³ We need grace for each day, each moment, each breath we take. I don’t know why the distracted driver missed three green lights—maybe someone was unwell, or maybe the vehicle malfunctioned. A grace-filled heart looks at situations through the eyes of others, listens, empathizes, and recognizes another’s need even as we deal with our circumstances.
We reach out to others with love (John 13:34). This is where lofty words are put to the practical test. In relationships with others, we sometimes lose patience, experience hurt or wounded pride, and lash out. God wants us to learn to manage our anger so that we don’t hurt others or ourselves (Ps. 37:8). At the same time, some situations stir our righteous indignation; we see injustice, victimization of the innocent, or mockery made of God. We are cautioned to be angry, but not give in to unproductive rage.4 In talking with His disciples, Jesus emphasized this salient point: what flows out of the mouth is an indication of what is in the heart (Matt. 15:18; Luke 6:45).
Ultimately, to minister to others, we need God’s heart, God’s spirit. We have God’s promise that this can be a reality: “I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Eze. 36:26, NLT).5 What would this world be like if we, as practicing Christians, consistently demonstrated love, patience, understanding , and acceptance, to counter the anger and frustration that has a stranglehold on our world? As we grow in relationship with God and others, let us daily embrace opportunities to extend grace, uplift, strengthen, and encourage one another regardless of life’s circumstances, just as God who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Ps. 103:8, NIV) does for us.
¹ Merriam-Webster Online, “Anger” (2021), https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anger.
² Gallup Global Emotions 2021, https://www.gallup.com/analytics/349280/gallup-global-emotions-report.aspx?thank-you-report-form=1.
³ Ellen G. White, Mind, Character, and Personality (Nashville: Southern Pub. Assn., 1977), vol. 2, p. 516.
⁴ Ibid.; see also Ephesians 4:26 and 6:12. 5 Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Faith-Ann McGarrell is the editor for The Journal of Adventist Education and lives in Maryland, United States.