Dashed Against the Rocks: Hope for Our Anger
Anger is a very real, extremely common emotional response to the stuff of life. And, as a human race, we are not skilled at working through our anger to a place of peace or reconciliation. Most often, we end up doing things or saying things from a place of anger that we wish we could do over. Or, perhaps, we feel justified because we were wronged, but probably inwardly wish we hadn’t exploded or imploded or whatever the case may be. We all get hurt in this life and if we’re paying attention, we get angry. We might have learned how to stuff our anger or put on a smiling face in the midst of it, but it’s there none the less. In fact, if someone claims to never get angry, I wonder if they have a pulse. Is there any hope for dealing with our anger – our hurt – our violent thoughts?
In the Old Testament Scriptures, there are prayers that offer hope but they have typically been either misunderstood or ignored. In fact, recently, a friend emailed and asked me about a verse in one of these Old Testament prayers that troubled her:
“Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” Psalm 137:9
This is one of those verses in the Bible that legitimately bothers people. The question is most often: how can a loving God condone the idea of killing children? Let me quickly say that there is more going on in this verse than meets the eye. So, what’s going on?
Psalm 137 is an example of what is called an Imprecatory Psalm. An imprecation is a harsh word or words that are said when someone is angry and hurting. The idea of the Imprecatory Psalms is that the Lord asks us to come to Him with the anger and hurts and deep frustrations of our hearts. Verse 9 of Psalm 137 is not a good, right, or holy thought but it is the real thought of the psalmist. The people of Israel were captives, slaves, in Babylon and they were hurting and angry. It could be argued that they were justified in their anger. Right? They were slaves! They were so angry that they wanted the children of their captors to die and die violently. We can all relate to times when we were so angry that we just wanted another to die, or at least go away, never to be seen again. God never affirms those thoughts as right or correct but invites His people to come and share everything on their hearts. Rather than simply “parrot” the right answers – God wants us to trust Him with our hearts which begins with honesty and pouring out our hearts. The hope in all of this and what I’ve seen over and over is that people’s hearts are shaped and transformed as they give all of themselves to God and not “stuff” the anger and/or violent thoughts.
If we look at the rest of Psalm 137, we notice that there is an expression of several things:
- Tears, or hurt (verses 1-2)
- Statement of the circumstances surrounding the hurt (verses 3-4)
- Lamentation of what seems like lost hope (verses 5-6)
- Violent, murderous thoughts (verses 7-9)
Here are several things that we can glean from the existence of this kind of prayer:
- In times of anger, don’t worry about thinking the “right” things but give your actual thoughts and feelings and responses to God. Pour out your heart to him. He desires to hold your anger and hurt. The Imprecatory Psalms are not expressions of “good theology” but they are expressions of the kind of honesty that can lead to a transformed heart.
- What is modeled in Psalm 137 is the beauty of honesty. Don’t ignore the feelings and emotions of your present experience. And notice that the psalm doesn’t end with a resolution but leaves things hanging. It is God who resolves and holds the hurts, not us. We may have to come back again and again over a period of time.
- When we dismiss our emotions and anger, we are really just stuffing them under the surface of our hearts. The result is that we stop going below the surface of our lives and don’t live from the depths of who we are. And, those emotions will always come out and hurt others. We don’t live our lives based on what we want to believe but based on what is in our hearts.
- We find Him in the midst of whatever is going on in our lives, not in some other imaginary world that we’d like to live in.
How do you deal with anger? Do you find yourself exploding, imploding, stuffing, or denying your anger? In Ephesians 4, we are encouraged to “be angry and do not sin.” There is an invitation (be angry) and a potential result (do not sin). All of us have experienced being angry and consequently sinning. Perhaps, the “do not sin” part comes as we experience our anger in the context of our relationship with God, i.e., in prayer. Sins are always the result of acting, thinking, and desiring independent of our relationship with God. Love, joy, peace, and patience spring forth from our dependence on the Spirit. When we pray an “imprecatory psalm”, we are depending on God through prayer.
So, today, as you feel anger arise in your heart (it could be small or big), stop and pray. Pray all that you are feeling to God. Give it to Him. Give Him your heart. And then, quietly ask Him to give you His heart. Repeat as necessary … (and, it will be necessary!)