Covid and Emotional Resilience: Part One - Anger

This post is part of a series prepared for Holy Week 2020, when our spiritual responses to the somber Lenten readings are tempered by emotions rising to the surface as we continue in Lockdown in New Zealand. 

In preparing these devotions for our own faith community, I decided to look for a connection with our present experiences of individual and family isolation amidst global peril. I found that for each day a particular emotion came to mind, so that is the perspective I’ve applied in these thoughts. 

Remember that Jesus had been on retreat with the disciples in Batanea, sometimes called Bethany over the Jordan. After entering the city and being welcomed by throngs with palms and praises, we are told he spent every day in the temple, and the nights in Bethany, located near the Mount of Olives a few km from the City. (Luke 21: 37, 47; Matt 21: 37)

On Monday, the gospel tradition says that Jesus entered the Temple precincts and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, rebuking them for exploiting the poor and making God's house of worship into a materialistic enterprise. Wild Goose Worship has a thoughtful meditation "It was on the Monday..."

Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text: 
My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.  
(see also Mark 11: 15ff, Luke 19: 45ff and John Chapter 2)

There's no doubt this passage portrays anger, but interpretations of Jesus' actions often soften the rage into something less fearsome. Christians seem to find the thought of Jesus being angry discomfiting, as if it doesn't fit with our "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" heritage. And that can lead us to feel anger is inappropriate for a believer too. I recall an elders' meeting many years ago, when I  commented during a heated discussion about raffles at the church fair that Elder J was angry because of ...(the specifics don't matter). He and the others in the room (all older men) were horrified that I described his response as 'angry'; they were not comfortable with the idea that humans get irate, sometimes for good reason. I was a woman, raising young children, and trained in psychology and pastoral counselling, and had no problem naming the emotional climate. And I have no qualms about focusing on Anger in this post as we grapple with the feelings - including anger - that arise in us during the constraints of Level 4 Lockdown.

Scholars disagree as to whether the incident took place once or twice, since John dates it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but all the gospels record such an event. Yet it’s a disconcerting story to read, at odds with the kind and gentle Messiah who rode a donkey and taught about loving our enemies. Preachers usually distinguish between Jesus’ righteous indignation on behalf of others, and the human experience of ‘losing it’ and becoming enraged. That thought and some other dynamics are appropriate themes for meditation and prayer as we ride out the emotional challenges of staying at home this week. 

God’s “wrath” as portrayed in the Hebrew story can’t justify human hostility. The arc of Salvation History does not demonstrate rage as part of God’s character; his anger is pure and orderly in a way ours is not. See Psalm 30: 5  and C S Lewis on Aslan “He isn’t safe but he’s good.” 
The occasional moments of anger in Jesus’ life, for example his fury against the Pharisees, or his distress at Lazarus’ death,  are far outweighed by the moments he refrained from showing anger, eg when he was accused of being the Devil,  or when he was nailed to a Roman cross. 
Anger is natural, hormonal, part of creation, and can be a powerful and proper resistance to the loss or removal of something good. It could be  - as in this passage - a response to an offence against someone/something else; think how you feel when you see someone kick a dog. Or we could be angry on our own behalf, when someone denies the image of God in us, by, for example, slander, exclusion, or assault. “When we respond energetically, we are echoing God’s indignation” (Andrew Cameron, Australian ethicist.) 
So a strong response may sometimes be justified, but it is always tested by what behaviour it produces (Eph 4:26 - 27  and James 1: 19, 20) “Don’t sin by letting anger control you….anger gives a foothold to the devil” …”You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” Grace is the trajectory for believers.
Consequently the Bible warns about outbursts of anger (2 Cor 12:20, Gal 5:20, Eph 4:31). Translators use words like petulance, overreaction, flaring tempers, taking sides, angry words, and cutting talk. 
We need to learn strategies to deal with what enrages us. One of these is to ask ourselves “what is there behind that?”, “what is the trigger, the feeling behind the feeling?” Often it is fear. More than once during this lockdown I’ve been reminded that “anger is the dog we send to the door when fear comes knocking.” (Many sources but I heard it from Dave Riddell). But not only fear; the iceberg graphic reminds us that anger can come from many hidden feelings. This week its worth sitting with this illustration, on your own or with kids, and learning to name and tame some of these reactions.

Gather these thoughts into a conversation with God. The Serenity Prayer may be a start:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference. (Reinhold Niebuhr) 

Acknowledgements: A section on Rage in ethicist Andrew Cameron's book Joined-Up Life contributed to my thinking through this topic.
The Anger Iceberg was used in many forms when I was a school guidance counsellor decades ago. I found this version on Pinterest and apologise if it is your intellectual property.