Anger Metastasizes Into Contempt, Rage Into Disgust


Anger can be righteous, when we are wronged,  when somebody we care about is wronged, or when we see injustice carried out. 

Anger is a high-energy state.  It tends to either dissipate or harden,  metastasize,  into a lower energy state … like contempt. 

Anger is an emotion of engagement. An angry person will push, even fight for change. Angry people are still in dialogue, still in relationship. 

When that hardens to contempt,  all that goes away.  People are written off as incorrigible,  as useless,  as bad people,  as worthless,  as less than, as unclean, as other

As Richard Beck noted in his book Unclean, contempt is the emotion of separation,  of dehumanization, the emotion that chokes empathy and hospitality, and justifies all manner of abuses and cruelties. 

So fight for your anger.  Hold onto our until you are ready to let go and forgive.  Don’t let it turn into something vile and cancerous, something that takes settles into your heart until it feels like it belongs there. 

But forgive quickly, and give yourself some distance  to heal, because there’s another emotion that can take hold, a high energy state even more destructive than contempt: 

Hate.

And we can’t let that one in. It’s the worst devil of them all. 

Dies Irae (Compassion and the Wrath of God)

I’ve always had a problem conceptualizing God’s anger. I always sort of saw it as in conflict with His love and compassion. The “Dies Irae” and “Kyrie Eleison” never seemed to match that well.

Similarly, I always had trouble with the Penal Substitution theory of atonement. It always seemed like an artificial differentiation between Jesus and God the Father, with Jesus saving us from God.

But this morning in church, some things I’d been reading and something the preacher said sort of clicked.

I’d been picturing God’s wrath all wrong, because I’d been thinking of it like mortal anger. Let me explain.

Humans get mean, careless, and stupid when we get angry. We break things, we hurt people (physically or emotionally), we say things we can’t take back. We lash out.

But God isn’t mortal. He isn’t fallen, flawed, or stupid. He isn’t a slave to his upbringing, His adrenaline, His sin.

His wrath isn’t like our anger. When we get angry, we lash out. But what happened when sin kindled God’s wrath and created a separation between us and God? What was God’s plan? What was God’s reaction?

He came to earth, to walk among us, to suffer and die for us.

What is the outcome of God’s wrath?

Compassion.

Incarnation.

Salvation.

Christmas.

Suddenly, “Kyrie Eleison” seems like a perfectly companion for “Dies Irae.”

When sin kindled God’s wrath and created a separation between Him and His beloved creations, He found a way back. HeĀ made a way back for us.

Even though it cost Him pain, sadness, death, and – worst of all – even though He had to experience our sin first hand. Of all the tortures Jesus suffered, enduring the flood of evil done by humanity throughout history must have been the worst.

Even with all that, God made a way.

That’s love, and compassion, and wrath, all working to bring His loved ones home.

That’s God.

Merry Christmas.