Anger Management

Some of you may remember the Hulk TV series, that started with the flashing word “anger”. As the camera pulls back the word is shown to be the word “danger” and is the warning light on the Gamma Ray machine. It also featured the memorable quote from Dr. Banner – “don’t make me angry – you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”…

The episode introduction would then end with the quest that Banner finds himself on – “finding a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him”. I guess I am showing some of my age but I enjoyed this show as a kid. However in the show is a powerful message that we are all like Dr. Banner, with a monster within us that can be unleashed when we too are angry or under stress. Driving 5 miles in 30 minutes knowing you have to go nearly 20 miles to make your class on time and you are likely to be late because you gave yourself only an hour to get there is certainly a time when we can start to show our inner Hulk.

However Solomon reminds us that:

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. (Prov 14:29)

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Prov 16:32)

Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,  for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. (Eccles 7:9)

Examining Jonah we can learn a lot about anger and when we are angry we can learn a lot about ourselves.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)

When the Lord came to Jonah what did he do? Jonah ran.

Not to carry out the Lord’s command but like a big kid Jonah runs away and pouts. He was trying to get as far away from Nineveh and the presence of the Lord as he could. Now Jonah lived in Samaria (the Northern Kingdom) in the first half of the 8th century BC during the reign of Jeroboam II. He is recorded as giving prophetic messages to the king regarding victories in battle and reclaiming territories and land for Israel (2 Kings 14:23-27). I doubt that Jonah ran away from the Lord or from delivering these messages.

Well Jonah boards a ship for Tarshish and we all know the rest of the story – after some timeout in a fish to cool off and rethink things Jonah is given another chance:

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.  Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:1-4)

Why was Jonah reluctant to deliver the message in the first place? Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh the capital of Assyria and deliver the message that the Lord would destroy them in 40 days? Certainly the destruction of a strong neighboring nation (one that would take is people into captivity in 722 BC) would have given Israel a chance to continue to expand.

Jonah reluctantly preached to the city – with likely sermons that lacked zeal and total commitment and yet:

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. (3:5)

which resulted in:

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (3:10)

This is likely a summary verse of what happened. But before Jonah knew the results he settled on a hill overlooking the city having completed preaching to wait out the 40 days. As Jonah sits in the hot sun, stubborn and stewing in his anger he is hoping for a good show. He wants to see fire raining down from heaven to destroy the people and the city. As the days went on he likely saw the repentance of the people and this made Jonah even more angry. So mad he would rather die than live (4:3,8,9). Even though Jonah would not have had the book of Jeremiah yet – he was familiar with the concepts expressed in Jeremiah 18:5-11:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said,

“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish;

for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. (4:1-2)

Jonah had great theology. He knew rightly that God was a graceful and loving God. But his application was bad. He was angry because he knew God had given his enemies a chance to repent and be saved. How often are we in the same boat as Jonah – where our beliefs (orthodoxy) are better than our doing (orthopraxy). A pastor once exclaimed that we were “educated beyond our level of obedience”.

As Jonah sits in the hot sun God causes a plant to shade him and ease his misery. When the plant dies and Jonah is left to sit in the scorching sun again he rages and becomes a Hulk (maybe that is why he is a green vegetable in the VeggieTales movie).  He tells God he is “angry enough to die”. Blind with rage he misses the fact that he could have left the hill and headed home or even into the city to join the revival. As the Lord questions him he exposes the fact that Jonah is stubborn, his anger is making him difficult to reason with, and that he cares more for his own comfort than the lives of those around him. Why? Digging deep. Jonah is proud, stubborn, and selfish. And if we are honest most of the time we are angry for the same reasons.

Jonah might make a good stand in for the way evangelicals are generally portrayed in Love Wins as captured in this USA Today article:

But Richard Mouw, president of the world’s largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins “a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus.

The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between “generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people.”

While most people are not eagerly awaiting the destruction of other people or hoping they “go to hell”, we all (if we are honest) can be more interested in our comforts and the loss of them then in reaching the lost upon whom destruction is coming. And we can certainly be like Jonah and let our own form of stubborn and selfishness distract from the good works and fruit that would glorify God (Matt 5:16). When we feel that Hulk growing inside we would do well to heed Solomon and slow down and think about the question God asked Jonah:

Do you do well to be angry?

And while I don’t want to read to much into “after-life” theology it should not be missed that repentance spared the city from destruction. The expression of love and compassion in the case of both Nineveh and Jonah can be seen in the fact that each was given warnings, a chance to repent and turn to God, and forgiven based on a positive response. We should also not miss the fact that God was willing to destroy and punish in both cases as well.

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