A friend of mine recently confided “Father, I’m angry.” When I asked him what he was angry about, it was telling to watch him struggle with the reason for his anger. He simply responded “I’m angry about everything! Wow, everything? As we talked, he finally began to express how angry he was at how his life had turned out. He used phrases like “If only I had” and “If only I hadn’t” and he confessed that most of his anger was directed at himself. He wasn’t satisfied with his job, his wife, his children, his relationship with God. This young man was angry! I had to confess to him that I had had periods in my own life when I was angry in this very same way.
Aristotle wisely said: “Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” We also read in scripture “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26). Psychologists tell us that anger is never a primary emotion; that it is an emotion that is always in reaction to a previous emotion or unfulfilled expectation. And the power of anger is a neutral emotion depending on how it is acted upon. If our anger fuels us to change in a positive way then the anger is good fuel. But, if our anger is driven inward and locked away or explodes outward and harms others, then the very same tool meant to provide us fuel for positive action becomes poison that corrodes our soul.
I think of this often when I see myself angry at someone else or even angry with God. Before this anger can be positive fuel, we first must look beyond the temptation to the blinding power of anger to it’s source: Why am I angry? And why am I angry at this person or situation or even God? Unless we explore these issues, most likely our anger will cause harm to us and others and we will miss the mark of being angry but not sinning.
Look at our Scripture Lesson today from that amazing book of Genesis:
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Genesis 3:21-4:7
First, please note a phenomenally important revelation! This revelation alone will cure the false anger we may feel toward God! Look at WHY God sends our father and mother out of the Garden. He sent them out of the Garden not to punish them, but to protect them from an even worse fate of eating from the Tree of Life and live forever in the hellish state of separation from God, their Loving Creator! And look also; our parents had tried to cover themselves with leaves, but our Loving Creator offered the first sacrifice so that our parents’ nakedness could be covered. Their attempts to cover themselves failed, but our Loving Creator covered them Himself.
No wonder Cain had no excuse to not know about the proper sacrifice to offer God! Cain’s anger was rooted in his insistence on having things his own way and God saw how caustic to Cain’s soul this willful missing the point had on Cain’s life. To be sure, it was so caustic; it was so destructive, that it became the motivation for the first murder!
Notice God’s loving wisdom offered to Cain: sin is crouching at the door of Cain’s life! And the ONLY remedy for this dangerous moment in Cain’s life is to learn to MASTER it!
As we journey through Great Lent, my dearest, the motivation of our fasting, our increased prayers, our frequent attendance at services all lies in learning to MASTER our desires so that they won’t master us. It is never about getting God to love us or be happy with us or even reward us. All of these motivations contain the poison of anger towards God if He doesn’t do what we expect Him to do for us. But if our lenten journey can be motivated by the wise insight of mastering our own hearts, then we can always run into God’s presence with confidence and joy that the Father truly loves us and desires only our salvation.
Today, as you fast and pray and give alms in your lenten journey, are you willing to harness the power of anger to heal, or are you all too often mastered by anger and made a slave by it? It’s time to embrace the wisdom of Great Lent to empower your soul to master your desires and make you Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. An all New Faith Encouraged LIVE program is this Sunday at 8 PM. Our subject will be the spiritual discipline of practiced silence! The fathers called this the Way of Hesychia; the Way of inner stillness, wakefulness, and silence. Learn how this central wisdom of our Orthodox faith can help you during your own lenten journey towards Pascha! That’s this Sunday night at 8 PM on AncientFaith.com