When Anger Boils

When we last saw NASCAR at Homestead, Florida, last November, Brad Keselowski was winning his first ever Sprint Cup championship. The back story, however, was all about the growing feud between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon. Gordon, as you may recall, had intentionally wrecked Bowyer the previous week in Phoenix, resulting in a brawl between the pit crews and aerial footage of Bowyer running from his destroyed car to join the fight. As a result, throughout the Homestead race, one eye was on the championship battle between Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, and the other was tracking Bowyer and Gordon to see if there would be retaliation for the wreck that had not only destroyed Bowyer’s car but had also derailed his chances for winning the championship. As NASCAR revs it up again this weekend with the Daytona 500, there are still questions about when that retaliation might come—and the high-banked, high-speed danger of Daytona makes any potential attempt to strike back all the more dangerous.

NASCAR has long been known as a sport where tempers can boil over in a heartbeat, but out-of-control anger is not limited to NASCAR or, for that matter, any other sport. Anger is a problem that must be understood as well as managed.

On the understanding side, we need the wisdom to see the difference between appropriate and inappropriate anger. Appropriate anger is what can be legitimately felt when God is dishonored or when the poor and the downtrodden are victimized. Moses was an excellent example of both. At times, he displayed anger because of the way God was treated, but at other times his anger was rooted in self-protection. Importantly, injustice is usually at the core of divine anger, and I think this is at the core of Paul’s appeal when he says, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). There is an anger that is not sin, but it is very precise. It is rooted in concern for those outside ourselves.

On the managing side, we must recognize our inability to handle anger in our own strength. We are dependent on the control of the Holy Spirit to help us manage anger. I think this is also what Paul was appealing for in Ephesians 4:26, when he continued, “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” We have to understand the destructive nature of anger when it is left untended, which means that we must not allow it to linger and that we are to enter into it slowly and with great caution. Beyond that, when it comes to managing anger, James said, “My dear brothers and sisters . . . be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT).

Anger needs a shelf life. We cannot allow it to linger or fester or burn. At the same time, we must be very cautious about entering into anger, recognizing that we must examine our own hearts to see whether or not our anger is born out of concern for self or out of concern for God and others.

Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain