I was first introduced to Kathleen Norris through her well written reflective book, The Cloister Walk. I particularly enjoyed her chapter on the psalms. Another book of hers I appreciate is Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. This book is a series of essays on the religious language she encountered upon returning to the church after over a decade away. She offers much to ponder in her chapter on anger. So here is much of it.
Having forgotten most of what I knew of the Bible as a child, I was intrigued to discover, when I read it as an adult, and more significantly, when I heard it read aloud in the context of worship, that God's anger is different from our own. It is truly and more wholeheartedly righteous than human anger ever could be. With remarkable consistency the prophets, who depict God's anger in painfully vivid ways, allow us to see anger as a proper response to human injustice, the terrible wrongs we inflict on others, especially those least able to defend themselves. Religious people, who might think they have special access to God, come in for special scorn if they ignore the marginalized, those in need. God speaks through Isaiah the prophet:
When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood. ~Isa 1:15
The anger of God speaks the truth. No matter how 'nice' we think we are, or morally in the right, our hands, too, are full of blood; we do not exist as little kingdoms apart from our human societies full of murder, thievery, cheating, whole systems of oppression. I have come to have a certain level of trust in God's anger; it is a response to what is genuinely wrong. But there is also hope, a remedy:
Wash yourselves clean, make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow ~ Isa 1:16-17
The reality of evil can be oppressive, and St. Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, identifies the warfare of the Christian as being against societal evils that enslave both rich and poor. Paul writes, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness in this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph 6:12). This present darkness is amply evident in the daily news, and I doubt that it has changed much since Paul's era, or that of the early church...I wonder if holiness is not the ability to apply one's anger in quietly working against systemic evil, taking care not to draw undue attention to oneself. But human anger can never be as simply and essentially righteous as God's anger; in us, even well placed anger all too easily becomes mean and self serving. It can cause us to lose both our focus and our balance.
Now that I appreciate God's anger more, I find that I trust my own much less. I am increasingly aware of its inconsistencies, its tendency to serve primarily as a mask for my fears. If I can remember this when I am tempted to anger, I am less likely to inflict my rage on others. Reflecting on the purity of God's anger helps me to remain better attuned to the deadly admixture of self-righteousness in my own...
God's anger, as evidenced in the prophets and in some of the more prophetic sayings of Jesus, is an impetus to love, a command to set things right. But the monks saw human anger as our biggest obstacle to love. To become mindful of one's anger was seen as an essential but difficult task.
Kathleen Norris you have given us plenty of cud to chew on today. Thanks for your insights.
Just a word of caution with this piece. I don't want to in any way say that someone who has been betrayed should not be angry. It is a natural and opposite response to the fun that the betrayer had in the affair. Still, I believe it is meaningful and helpful to reflect on the differences between our anger vs God's anger.