Spending time reflecting on pain can pay dividends in understanding anger and anxiety. Pain is a physical warning system. Anger and anxiety are emotional warning systems. Both our physical and emotional alert systems can be either healthy or troubled.
When something is too hot, sharp, or violently impacts our body, our body alerts us to these dangers. While we don’t like pain, it is a valuable warning system as long as it is functioning properly.
Disease, however, can cause our nervous system to malfunction. Those born with congenital analgesia feel no pain. Without pain alerting them to dangers about 20% will not survive their first three years. Many will not reach adulthood. At the other end of the spectrum is fibromyalgia, where a person can feel pain even though no external danger exists.
In a similar way, negative emotions such as anger and anxiety serve as valuable emotional warning systems. They alert us that what we regard as valuable is in danger. If our beliefs, expectations and values are spiritually healthy, then anger and anxiety serve as useful emotional warning signals.
For example, human life is valuable since we are made in the image of God. Thus when people are abused, this ought to spark feelings of anger. Likewise, if someone chooses to trample the blood of the Son of God which makes people holy, that person ought to be anxious if not fearful of God’s wrath. God created us with these emotional responses to notify us of threats, attacks and roadblocks to what is valuable.
However, the flesh can co-opt our belief and value systems. When this happens, anger and anxiety will arise inappropriately or never appear when they should. Accordingly when scripture denounces anger and anxiety, it is addressing those emotional misfirings caused by improper beliefs and values.
Thus when Proverbs 22:24-25 warns against making friends with a hot-tempered man, it is because we might learn to think and value what he does. This would cause us to become hot-headed too!
Although Proverbs 12:16 and Jesus (Matthew 5:39) counsel us to overlook an insult, those who have adopted defending their pride will become angry when offended. Still yet another person anxiously frets over a sudden drop in the stock market, because she ignored Jesus’ promise that God provides for those who seek first the kingdom as well as Jesus’ instruction to not worry about tomorrow. On and on it goes.
Furthermore, strong emotions incline us to act and think in accordance with how we are feeling. Although we can choose to act against our feelings, this is not the easy path. Angry people tend to act and speak in ungodly ways (Proverbs 29:22). For these reasons God’s people are instructed to be “slow to anger” and “in your anger do not sin” (James 1:19; Ephesians 4:26).
When the emotional warning systems the Creator has graciously provided us are co-opted by fleshly values and earth-bound beliefs, anger and anxiety misfire. Yet there is hope!
In Ephesians 4:17-24 Paul aptly outlined the general path toward spiritual health. He observed that those far from God are driven by their darkened understandings and deceitful desires. He counseled the Christian to leave all of that behind by learning from Christ. A renewal of mind, a new way of thinking and a new set of values needs to replace the old mindset so that the former self with its behaviors can be cast off. Emotions that had been co-opted by the flesh now become aligned with righteousness.
Many Christian resources echo Paul’s instruction when they promote emotional spiritual health for God’s people by re-centering the disciple’s thoughts on what is true about God, what God has promised, as well as recognizing what is truly valuable. God has provided what we need. Will we embrace it?