Recently I was talking to my Father Confessor about my reluctance to do what I know I should do (or not do what I know I shouldn’t do). He suggested that I have not yet become angry enough to repent. I asked, “Who should I be angry with? Myself?” He smiled, “Who else is there to be angry with?” Like many conversations with my spiritual father, this one ended with no resolution. He planted a seed (smiling, knowing that I didn’t know, but knowing that I might come to know).
Of course, I have been angry with myself before–but not often. Most times my anger with myself has to do with some physical limitation, often having to do with eye-hand coordination [read: lousy basketball player]. I also get angry with myself when I embarrass myself socially. Generally speaking, however, almost all of the time when I am angry, I am angry at someone else.
Father Gregory’s word has been growing in my heart. I read Psalm 4 this morning and a verse began to have a meaning for me that it had never had before. It says, “Be angry, and sin not; feel compunction upon your bed for what you say in your hearts. Sacrifice a sacrifice of righteousness and hope in the Lord.” In the past, I had always interpreted that verse as meaning, “it’s okay to get angry [at others], just don’t sin.” Until recently, I didn’t have any understanding of anger except as something generally directed at others.
But this verse is not talking about anger at others. The verse says that we are to feel compunction for what we say in our hearts. It is not about others, it is about our response to what we say in our hearts. The verse seems to be saying that if we are angry (with what we say in your hearts) we will not sin. Isn’t that what the second part of the verse tells us: “Sacrifice a sacrifice of righteousness and hope in the Lord”? To sacrifice means to give to God something valuable, something you normally wouldn’t willingly give up or want to lose, something that keeps you from having to trust completely in the Lord. But what will motivate us to give up what we don’t want to lose? What will motivate us to let go of that thing, idea, privilege or relationship that keeps us from having to trust completely in the Lord? Anger. Anger at ourselves and the sinful things we say in our hearts; anger at the attachment I have to possessions, positions and people that keep me from sacrificing a sacrifice of righteousness and hoping in the Lord. (Note, the anger is with my attachment, not with the possession, positions or people.)
St. Paul quotes this verse in Ephesians (4:26), where he seems to be making the same point. Since we are members of one another, we should be “angry, and [thus] do not sin.” Specifically in the context, we could read it this way: Due to the righteous sacrifice and trusting in the Lord of the one who is angry with his own sin, he does not lie to or defraud (steal from) another. Anger here cannot be with another because five verses later St. Paul tells us not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but rather to “let go of…anger…and be kind to one another.” St. Paul is talking about two kinds of anger: the anger at another (which we must let go), and–quoting Psalm 4–the anger that keeps us from sinning.
“The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Somehow in my struggle to “take” the Kingdom of Heaven, to take what I know has already been freely given, I must allow my heart to be roused from it’s comfort zone. I must allow the anger at and compunction for “what I say in my heart” (as I “lie on my couch”) to rouse me off my comfortable inner couch and to offer the sacrifice of righteousness and so to force myself to trust in the Lord. After all, no matter what great gifts I have been freely given, if I do not get up off the couch and take them, they do me no good.