Not long ago, some odd tidings came my way at work. I was so upset, I jumped out of my chair and took a brisk walk in no particular direction. Fortunately, a coworker’s sense of humor snapped me out of it and helped me set my feelings aside. Then a few days later, I learned from another coworker that my assumption—an assumption that led to consumption by anger—was completely off. What I thought happened, didn’t really happen.
I find that when I get angry, it’s often tied to missing or incomplete information. (This is a continuation of a recent post on anger, by the way.)
So what happened to me that day at work? In a gap of misunderstanding, I allowed the universal sin—pride—to knock me off balance and that led to anger—a pretty wasteful emotion when it’s based on an entirely incorrect idea.
Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom. (Proverbs 13:10.)
I can’t dodge anger. I can’t get rid of it. It’s going to tag along with me for the rest of mortality. Asking for total relief from anger is like asking for complete release from temptation. Not going to happen in this life. It’s part of a package deal.
Understanding this deal, consider the source of the spirit of contention. It doesn’t come from God.
For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11:29; emphasis added.)
We didn’t invite Satan and his recruits to join our party, but God did. Yes, Lucifer is here by permission. He is the unwitting servant of God. By design, it’s up to us to uninvite the devil from our party. It’s are choice. And it takes a bit of work.
We don’t have to lie down and roll over. We can resist Satan and the spirits that follow him. In fact, we have a promise in this regard.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7; emphasis added.)
The problem is, we don’t resist. A taste of anger is a temptation, and I believe God wants us to resist it and to control it. But too often, we enjoy the anger and enjoy expressing it. We would deny it, but that hot shot of adrenaline can be quite enjoyable. We like to be right or a suffering victim, which is kindling for the fire. But we have this command from holy scripture, which I repeat here.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil (Psalms 37:8; emphasis added).
Let me wrap this up. It takes years of practice, but it’s worth the fight. Anger is one of those emotions that can get out of control pretty quickly. We can’t avoid it. It’s part of us that needs to be confronted and controlled. It’s fueled by pride and deception, often in the form of misinformation. We can resist it, like any other temptation. In fact, we are charged by holy writ to do just that.
A group of 80 Israeli schoolgirls from Beit Shemesh, 20 miles west of Jerusalem, were on a field trip to the Jordan Valley and were visiting the Island of Peace park on Thursday, March 13, which was under Jordanian rule.
A Jordanian border guard opened fire on the girls, killing 7 and wounding 5 or 6 others, including a teacher. The border guard was subdued by other Jordanian soldiers on the scene. The girls who were killed were only 13 and 14 years old.
The following Sunday, March 16, King Hussein flew to Israel and visited the homes of each of the victims, who were in mourning (shiva). He reportedly knelt before the parents, begging their pardon and asking forgiveness. Among other things he said, “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own. If there is any purpose in life it will be to make sure that all the children no longer suffer the way our generation did.”
This act of deep humility was remarkable and well received by the victims’ families. Some mocked him, but it as an incredibly wise, courageous, and timely act. It seems to have avoided more open conflict between the countries.
Recently, as I have struggled with conflict, the Lord has whispered this instruction in my ear, “Be humble. You will win by humility.” I believe those words whole-heartedly. King Hussein was a living example of them.
I think one of the hardest things to do is to forgive yourself. What can I hold out as evidence of that?
First, off, I will confess that it has been a difficult thing for me. For a long time I held onto this little subordinate clause: “But you are not good enough.” Secondly, it is one thing I have heard about a lot in the bishop’s office, perhaps more than anything else. How could I help others forgive themselves when I didn’t do it myself? Well, I have forgiven myself. And if there is any question, I reforgive myself. Out loud. All the time. And I feel much better, much closer to my Heavenly Father.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why can’t we accept the forgiveness that Christ offers us without second guessing it or making up special exemptions for ourselves?
I am comforted by the words of John: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17.) The mission of our Savior is to save, not condemn. It seems like mankind got that backwards—we collectively are so much more inclined to condemn than save. Truth is, if we weren’t so angry at ourselves, we would likely be much less angry at the world. It is something we all need to work on.
Here is a perfect example of how God does not condemn us, also taken from John (chapter 8, the first 11 verses).
Jesus was sitting in the temple in Jerusalem teaching one morning when some Pharisees and scribes—the religious establishment of the day—brought to him a woman taken in the act of adultery. You can just feel their wrath and condemnation coming off the page. But weren’t they justified in their zeal? I mean, adultery is a very serious sin.
They said, “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?”
Jesus knew what they were up to. They were just trying to get Him to say something that they could twist, so they could accuse and condemn Him, too. I love how Jesus handled it. The passage just says that He stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. A translation of the New Testament from the 10th century indicates that Jesus wrote the sins of the men who accused the woman on the ground.
They continued asking him what should be done. Eventually, He stood up and said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Ouch. Then He stooped down again and continued to write on the ground.
Well, when they heard that they were “convicted by their own conscience,” and one by one they all left the scene, until Jesus was alone with the woman. Standing there, she must have had her eyes on the ground. Can you imagine how embarrassing a moment like this might be in front of anyone, let alone the Son of God?
It was time for a short interview. Jesus stood up again and saw no one around except the woman. Then He says, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” On two occasions, Jesus addressed his own mother as Woman in the Gospel of John (John 2:4; 19:26). In this context, the title certainly was intended to show the woman respect.
The woman answered, “No man, Lord.” She likewise addresses Jesus with respect, in spite of the tough situation she was in. To her credit, a proud or defensive person would not likely show this kind of deference.
Here is a key. Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”
There is mercy. Jesus did not condemn the woman taken in the very act of sin. Why should we condemn ourselves then, especially for sins long past?
I see it mainly as a matter of faith. Does Jesus have power to cleanse from sin? Yes, of course. Then when we have done what we can and should do about our sins, why don’t we trust that by His grace He has forgiven us? And if He has forgiven us, then why don’t we in turn forgive ourselves and others? (It is often awkward to forgive others when we won’t forgive ourselves because we tend to take out our self-loathing on them.)
It’s the natural man in us that resists the mercy of God. The natural man wants to be in charge of everything, and boss you and everyone else around. The natural man is all about the immediate, not the Infinite. The natural man takes pleasure in a victim role, in being stuck, in taking on and holding onto sorrow and pain and misery and blame, instead of giving it to the One who can cast it all behind His back (Isaiah 38:7).
So let go and trust. God is worthy of our trust. It’s His plan, not ours. Leave your sins at the doorstep of heaven and walk in. Put the natural man in time out, where he belongs—and take yourself out of time out. You’ve been in long enough.
I love this passage from Ezekiel. “But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live” (Ezekiel 18:21,22).
It’s not necessary for us to mention them either, once we have repented. God bless us all to find peace in forgiveness, not only of others but of ourselves.