At the bordering gate into Christian heaven one requires a passport inspected by the TSA — Translation and Spiritual Administration. To enter, there needs be a visa stamped with a seal of love. The Golden Rule is the ticket. The King of Christianity taught, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength and with all your mind." (Deuteronomy 6:5) And, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
The goal of life is to transcend the limitations of our passionate limbic system or the feelings of infancy, but what do you do when you are really ticked off? Where does anger fit into the grand scheme of eternal emotions? Are we going to have entrance to ports on high revoked if our blood pressure goes up, our faces turn red and loud, mean words come out of our mouths?
How are we supposed to act when anger, indignation and even wrath are well-documented attributes of the God of Israel? On the other hand there is only one written reference of the Son being angry. Hint: it was not at the cleansing of the temple.
Certainly there is a hierarchy of human fury: rage supersedes wrath which trumps annoyed, dropping to upset declining to irritated and stopping somewhere around miffed. Each has its own commitment of biological intensities. There is also the duration of the ire. We all know some sad folks who are tilted and stooped for years as they walk with a perturbed chip on their shoulder.
In a way, Mother Nature helps solve that question of excessive biological anger. Just like any earthly mom, Nature wants us to all get along. Socialness is a hallmark of humanness. If someone is always angry it is counter productive to collaboration and increased survival of the species. So the solution is that anger kills.
In society, chronic unrestrained ferocity is filtered out by death from knife fights, drive-bys or legal executions when the personal anger goes too far and hurts another or institutes revenge. It is a Darwinian selection of reducing the belligerently angry. But nature can’t always wait for the justice system, gangs or family feuds.
Therefore, Mommy Nature resorts to anger’s self-destruction. Frequent, persisting anger is a symptom of depression, which can trigger suicide. Anger and irritability often is more common than the traditional belief that depression is all about crying and being sad. It is mad not sad.
Repeated anger and depression stimulate stress hormones, increase inflammation, promote oxidative damage and blockage of critical arteries to the heart and brain. Heart attacks and strokes are known end-products to all the trauma of rage.
So the answer to being angry has to be “stop it”, but if it slips by make it short and make it sweet. Limit the time, frequency and the amount and how the anger is projected to the antagonist or ourselves. Making it short relates to both the duration of the reaction and how far back in time should be referenced for excuses to be angry. The shorter the historical net the fewer explosives will be dredged up. Being sharp with reprimand doesn’t mean shrill; it means to the point and limited scope.
Frequently the excuse for being upset is that it was “righteous anger.” That is great for someone who is perfect, but are we ever righteous enough to be angry ourselves? If we are impure we won’t make others righteous with our anger.
So how can anger be our righteous response? There needs to be righteousness on multiple levels. We need ourselves to be righteous; the cause needs to be righteous and the manner of expression in intensity, duration and method all need to be righteous.
So being angry should be left to the experts: the righteous. But being angry doesn’t mean we are righteous. We are just mad.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.