The psalms don’t shy away from unleashed anger. Psalm 137 sees an exiled people so fired up with hatred that they desired the death of a generation of babies. In Psalm 69, David’s anger rises to the surface of his situation as he calls upon God.
As I read the psalms and feel the reality of the anger, I wonder again at the words of Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount as he reflects on the commandment, ‘You shall not murder’, and says, ‘I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment’.
Anger has roots that can run far and deep into our memory. The exiles of Psalm 137 were remembering the violence of their removal from the land, the enduring shame of their humiliation. They were remembering stories of old. They handed down the visceral hatred of their victors to their children and their children’s children.
Anger dehumanizes, it turns its targets into objects. Anger has to do this, it has to objectivize in order to burn, or else we might discover that the object of our anger is a flawed human being, created in the image of God, just like us.
Perhaps what I have learnt is that the deep roots of anger are long-lasting. It is like a plant you chop down and think that when you have taken away the remains of its branches, when you have chopped it down to the base, then it is gone from your life, only for it to throw up fresh growth when and where you least expect it. Anger has deep roots, and the only way to deal with deep roots is to dig deep and dig them out – not only dig out the easy-to-find roots, but those that run far and long.
There are shortcuts. You can chop the tree of anger down to the base and pour on poison to kill the root. The poison works its way through the root, rotting it in the ground. The problem is, these poisons kill the anger, but they poison the ground from which new growth could come. No, the only way to root out anger is to dig, to dig throughout the journey of discipleship, to dig until the day I meet Jesus and am welcomed home, safe in the knowledge that the anger is no more.