We've looked at the myths of anger and God's purpose in anger so let's look more about what it means to us.
First off, anger is not meant to be punitive or punishing. What we generally think of as anger is more accurately called revenge. Sadly, many of us have lived out anger that way ourselves. I'll raise my hand that I've used it that way and always battle the temptation to use it that way again. It feels natural or reflexive to use anger to get even when we've been wronged.
Yet, it is important to express anger. The key is learning to express it well. My mentor, Tom Varney talked about being direct, firm and kind.When we don't express it directly the tempation is to gossip and slander to a 3rd party or a 4th, 5th or 6th. Or depression is sometimes explained as anger turned inwards. Not expressing anger has consequences.
However, hold this truth about expressing anger in one hand with grace in the other. There is no easy answer about when to express it or cover it with grace. As I mentioned before for me part of the discernment is about whether the action of the other is repetetive to me. Being in a constant mood of prayer and living a reflective life are good guides for the way as we stumble forward.
It is important to express our anger for a couple of reasons. One, anger communicates a need for personal respect. When the term boundaries is used this is often part of what is being talked about. Anger helps in telling others where we begin and they end. In smaller ways this is telling someone, 'please don't do that again'. In larger ways it may be reporting and/or suing someone for sexual harrassment.
This can be especially difficult for those who were abused or grew up in an addictive homes. Our boundaries were eroded. We were taught experientially that we weren't worth respecting and sometimes don't feel the right to say, "No, you can't do that to me." If others are boundary busters (don't hear our 'no') the stronger the action needed.
Secondly, anger allows us to stand firmly in Godly convictions. Standing for what we believe in is important. In the midst of affairs we've lost the ability to say no to another and to ourself about what is right or wrong. The vast majority of people would tell you that affairs are wrong. The feels good feeling strikes something deeper and clouds our judgment about our Godly convictions.
So recognizing early on when our convictions are in danger is important. How many of us have experienced guilt and shame because we caved to peer pressure at some point in life? I have talked to a number of women whose husbands have talked them into sex outside the marriage (such as a threesome or swapping) that regretted not saying no. It would have been a great example of this type of anger. "No, that wouldn't be good for my soul and honoring to my Lord!" At some point, the husbands end up regretting it too.
If we solely focus on right and wrong there are risks. We have hearts. The heart asks 'what does it mean to love well here'. The heart asks the question, "how will this impact my wife and kids?" If we're only focusing on right and wrong our hearts can get locked away and not be there to ask those questions. I once read that porn use skyrockets when a baptist (I am one) convention comes to town. The lack of an engaged heart is part of the reason. With it one can see further down the road, be in touch with what the temptation actually threatens, resulting in anger and then stand for his or her Godly convictions.
Anger is also an important guide to us. An important fact to remember about anger is that it is a secondary emotion. It is evidence of other emotions being present. Gary Oliver said that anger is mostly about hurt in the past, frustration in the present and fear for the future. So if there is anger present it is good to follow it into your soul and see what is underneath it. There's always somethere more there. If you have trouble expressing anger well (it feels falsely powerful) it's essential to do some digging and experience some healing for what is underneath it.
The goal is to express the hurt, disappointment, fears and anger but without the condemnation. Anger can then be a great benefit to a relationship. Heed the words of Ephesians 4:26, "In your anger do not sin."