What can we learn about anger?
Are there any good lessons on how to deal with it?
How have you dealt with anger in the past days?
Dealing With Intense Anger Is Not Fun
It was a normal day in our home when my five-year old daughter and her little brother broke out into a brawl. Before I could get to them, slaps and punches were flying in every direction. When I broke it up, my daughter was crying, and I learned that the little guy had started it all.
I turned to the youngest and said sternly. “Alex, I want you to apologize to your sister.” With a slow response, he begin to shake his head NO! Trying to be a calm father, I said, “Alex, I do not think you understood me, apologize to your sister.” The toddler bit his lip shook his head no, and begin to cry. “Alex, buddy, all I am asking you to do is come over here and apologize to your sister.” Then it came out of his tiny little mouth, “Dad, I don’t know what apologize means.” Sometimes dealing with anger can be confusing and complicated.
I had an elderly gentleman tell me one time that he and his wife of fifty years never had an angry word with each other. As I heard those words, I thought to myself that is hard to believe. Something is missing here. Either he is not telling the truth or one of them does not have a personality at all. Even those who are incredibly close to one another will engage in some sort of conflict that will ignite anger.
In the Beginning
The book of Genesis tells about the creation of the first family. Starting with this family is a good place to begin a journey that can help us understand how conflict is created by anger. Most first conflict experiences begin in family structures. Genesis tells a story about the first brutal clashing that grew into murderous action.
Because of their disobedience to God, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden created for them (Genesis 3:1-24). After their departure from God’s creation, the man and woman started their family (Genesis 4:1-2) Their new family would begin with two sons named Cain and Abel. Both sons had a unique personality. Cain was a gardener while Abel was one who tended and raised livestock. The Genesis story tells of how both young men made an offering to the Lord and how this event fueled the anger of Cain.
In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. (Genesis 4:2-8)
Anger Ignites Bad Decisions
The story in Genesis explains clearly why God was pleased with the offering of Abel over Cain. Cain brought to God “some of the fruits” of his work and Abel brought to God some of his “firstborn of the flock.” The actions of each man’s sacrifice showed how they valued their relationship with God. God was honored by the sacrifice of Abel but showed displeasure at the attitude of Cain. Because of this, Cain’s anger toward his brother and God exploded. The intense emotional displeasure of Cain with God and his brother led him to commit murder. Fury is a potent force that can tragically influences the behavior of people. Conflicts between two people such as Cain and Abel also have effects upon third parties.  The act of hostility of one man affected an entire family.
Cain’s actions show that anger can consume someone. It can destroy rational reasoning. It can also create massive problems. Everyone has had to deal with this emotion at some point in life. Cain allowed his intense feelings to take control. It took such control that he killed his own brother. This is proof of what anger creates when it is the driving force in dealing with people.
The Fuel of Anger
Cain allowed his anger to fuel bitterness. This behavior grew irrational thoughts. His irrational thoughts led to murder. In his writing in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul had to deal with negative attitudes. He gave advice to the early Christians when he wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus. He said, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger….”(Ephesians 4:26) Paul’s advice focused on the fact that allowing bad feelings to fester is an unhealthy practice. He saw it as such a dangerous practice that he suggested that you never go to bed angry. Paul knew that a person’s hatred and the character of a true believer are polar opposites. Anger can be an all-consuming bitterness that can destroy rational thinking. This was the case with Cain toward his brother.
Healthy People Recognize Their Anger
Individuals who have good people skills have developed healthy practices in dealing with anger. Cain failed in this category. Healthy individuals will not allow themselves to indulge in immature behaviors like tantrums. These people understand what ignites their rage. Solid thinkers do not allow anger to fester. A stable person surrounds himself or herself with trusted colleagues who have been given permission to keep him or her in check when anger shows up. What would have happened if Cain had talked to his mother, his father, or even his brother Abel rather than reacting to his emotional feelings? Anger exponentially multiplies the emotions that fertilize conflict. Animosity can nurture feelings to such a level that irrational thinking will grow like a fungus.
Anger is Not Cheap
Anger is costly!
If unmanaged, anger can destroy your most personal and strongest relationships. This is what happened with Cain and Abel. A conflict driven by rage can ruin many good marriages and friendships. Mismanaged anger always demands a price. It can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep problems, abuse of alcohol, and drug addiction. When anger is not addressed, it can become a consuming emotion, as it did with Cain. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes gives sound advice about dealing with anger. He wrote, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
Anger is something that we all deal with. It can take control of us if it is not addressed. For every second we remain angry we damage our peace of mind. God asked Cain three questions about his anger; “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:6-7) The Lord recognized what was in the mind of Cain when he said, “…..sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7-8) Furious emotions were consuming Cain so much that even a direct conversation with God could not change the hatred in his heart.
The Truth about Cain, Abel, Anger, and Conflict
There are some truths that we must understand about anger and how it ignites the fires of conflict. First, Cain showed that anger is a destructive emotion. It is part of the sin nature of every human. No one has to teach us to be angry. Just think about the two-year-olds you have known in your life who have gone ballistic. No one showed that child how to throw a temper tantrum.
Secondly, we know that most fits of anger will not settle down on their own. Rage seems to expand, increase and multiply with the greatest of ease. This sinful nature grows and reproduces itself. Not only does bitterness grow, but it also becomes overpowering. Cain’s anger with Abel was abrupt, brutal, and quick. Thirdly, as anger grows, it becomes evident that it does not need much help in expanding. As it evolves, it increases in its ability to burst forth and attack. Anger wants to express toughness, and it also wants to make it clear who is in charge.
The story of Cain and Abel is a quick lesson that shows how the clash between the two brothers, driven by the negative emotions of one brother, should not be ignored. It is evident that the internal battles in Cain’s heart and mind drove his actions. Anger does not have to produce hatred. But here are some behaviors that can transform conflict into an evil attitude. This happens when –
our thinking is fueled by rage.
the imagination grows a problem greater than it should.
our feelings of resentment increase intense emotions that affect us physically.
fury grows and overwhelms our ability to restrain ourselves.
it pleases us to cause pain on someone else.
we lose sight of ourselves and are consumed by the problems we see in other people.
Cain’s feelings of anger toward his brother evolved into a wicked act. Hatred can become an all-consuming emotion. Jesus taught his disciples some important lessons about anger.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment……“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary….” (Matthew 5:21-26)
The story of Cain and Abel is a sad story. It is a story that shows clearly what conflict, fueled by anger can create. How are you dealing with anger? The words of Jesus in the scripture above gives great advice, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary!” Do not allow anger to consume you as Cain did.
A conflict can become a destructive power if it is fueled my anger.
Questions About Anger
- How would you describe your anger level during a conflict?
- What methods have you used to control your anger?
- Have you experienced a conflict where anger has affected your family or a friendship? ____ If so, what were the results?
- What methods can be used to prevent an angry confrontation?
- What instruction do these Bible verses give us about anger?
- Ephesians 4: 31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
- Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
- Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 Louis Kriesberg, The Sociology of Social Conflict, Pentice Hall, Inc., New York, 1973, p.257.
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