Jeremiah Burroughs, a seventeenth-century English pastor and theologian, wrote a book that was intended to heal divisions and promote a gracious unity in a land fractured by civil war, party spirits, and general discord. He offered his readers a wonderful example of the dangers of a quick temper. England, at that time, had beacons along the coast that could be set on fire to quickly communicate urgent news across great distances. He writes: “If one should set the beacons on fire upon the landing of every small boat, what continual combustions and tumults would there be in the land!”
That simple illustration paints a compelling picture. No doubt anger does have a part to play in the overall character of the Christian. Jesus became “indignant” when the disciples tried to prevent little children from coming to him. That passage in Mark 10:14 could be more simply translated, “and seeing Jesus was angry…” There is such a thing as “righteous anger.” But I suspect it is more infrequently experienced or encountered than we might imagine.
God’s definition of love does not say that love never gets angry. But it does say that love is difficult to anger. It is not in a state of readiness to respond to the least provocation. Love does not go about with the safety off and the hammer cocked. Love is difficult to get angry. And just as the beacons should only be set ablaze when a real and present threat is poised to overwhelm the land, one’s anger should not be stirred unless there is great cause. Imagine what would become of your dearest friendships and closest relationships if you became angry at trivial or even merely moderate offenses or disappointments. How often have you become angry by some perceived offense only to realize, too many angry looks and words later, that you misunderstood the supposed offender? Over time, the sad result of this character flaw would be that your spouse, friend, or co-worker would be so busy walking on eggshells that your relationship will probably never progress to a place where serious issues can be identified and graciously resolved. Because of your short fuse, every molehill is treated as if it is a mountain. Every lost dinghy is the Spanish Armada.
Burroughs goes on to say that, “Those who upon every trifle are set on fire by their passions, and who by that set others on fire, exceedingly disturb the peace of those places where they live, those societies to which they belong. Their hot passions cause the climate where they live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near them.”
How quickly do you get angry? Is it difficult for others to provoke you to anger? Or does anger lay just beneath the surface – waiting for the slightest cause to erupt? The received wisdom of our culture says to count to ten, take a pill, or punch your pillow. Perhaps you will find a surer path to the peace God calls you to if you would consider how your quick temper indicates a lack of love for those God has placed in your life. It may be that by humbly and prayerfully seeking to love them according to God’s definition of love, you will find that it becomes more and more difficult for the imperfections of others to incite you to wrath.