Why Is Smoldering Anger a Problem?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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"In your anger do not sin." Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Ephesians 4:26

The What, How, and Why of Anger: Part 6

Ephesians urges us not to sin when we are angry and not to let our anger smolder away without finding healthy ways to deal with it. Why? Why is anger such a problem? Why should we work to resolve our feelings of anger, especially when this process is often uncomfortable? Why not just let our anger dissipate without paying attention to it?

To be sure, certain feelings of anger can disappear in time without much ado. If somebody cuts you off on the highway and you feel angry, chances are your anger will go away in a few miles. You don't generally need to track down the offending driver and seek reconciliation.

This can seem to be the case with deeper feelings of anger, the pain that comes when you have been seriously hurt by another person. As time passes, you no longer feel upset. Perhaps you can even be with the one who hurt you without bringing up what happened in the past. But, in my experience as a pastor and as a human being, anger that comes from major offenses doesn't actually vanish as if by magic. Rather, it hides, smoldering away. Then, when the person who hurt me does even something minor, my anger explodes from the embers. Even more perniciously, sometimes that anger blasts, not the one who hurt me, but someone else who doesn't deserve the outburst I can't control. Experience suggests that smoldering anger can cause great injury to relationships in family, church, work, and community.

I expect the Apostle Paul would agree with what I've just said, but that's not the way he puts it in our text. Rather, he writes, "Do not give the devil a foothold" (4:27). The word translated here as "foothold" can also mean "space, room, or opportunity." Unresolved anger opens up a place for the devil to dwell in us and in our relationships. Smoldering anger provides a secure foundation for Satan to do his work of dividing, distressing, and distracting us.

If this picture of the devil seems odd to you, we'll examine it in greater detail when we get to Ephesians 6. For now, it's important for us to know that simmering anger has power to hurt, and not just human power. The spiritual forces that oppose God and his people can and will use anger to cripple us so that we are unable to experience the joy of God's grace and to share this grace with the world. Therefore, we must be committed to dealing with our anger in a healthy, faithful, and God-honoring way.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of occasions in your life when anger, your anger or that of another person, gave the devil a foothold? What happened? How does verse 27 make a difference in the way you think about anger? Is there anger smoldering in your heart for which you need God's help today?

PRAYER: Gracious God, you know how easy it is for me to let anger burn away in my heart. Sometimes this happens because I avoid the discomfort of dealing with anger in a healthy way. Sometimes I like the self-righteousness that accompanies my anger. Sometimes I allow myself to believe that my anger will magically disappear. Forgive me, Lord, for all the times I have let anger dwell within me, thus opening up an opportunity for diabolic infiltration.

At this moment, Lord, I can't think of any unresolved anger simmering in me. But if there is some, I ask you to reveal it to me so that I might deal with it in a way that honors you and leads to greater health in my own life and in my relationships. Amen.


Pencils Down

Quitting time would be easier if deadlines, insecurity, perfectionism, and expectations disappeared. We could simply lay our pencils down and walk away from the task in peace. Unfortunately, this is not our experience. The urgent trumps the important. The urgent trumps the clock, too. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for God grants sleep to those he loves.” Conceptually appealing, yet realistically challenging when pressure knocks on the door, the wisdom of the Psalmist often fails to change our ways.

This article is part of a series at The High Calling called Pencils Down. Our hope is that in everything, from to-do lists to identity, we will be encouraged to make small advances toward stopping when it’s time to stop.

Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.