A lady once tried to rationalize her out-of-control temper to her pastor. “It’s no big deal,” she said. “I blow up, and then it’s all over.”
“So does a shotgun,” he replied, “and look at the damage it leaves behind!”
Anger is a deadly sin because it leads to other sins. That’s why Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, says you’ve heard the commandment against murder, “but I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment (Mt 5:22).”
It’s not the anger itself that is the problem, but the nurturing of anger so that it turns destructive. After all, Jesus was angry plenty of times (see Mark 3 or 11 and Luke 17, for starters).
For this reason, I prefer the old-fashioned word “wrath” to describe this deadly sin.
Anger is an emotion, one of the “principal passions” along with love and hate, desire and fear, joy and sadness. Sometimes it is good to be angry: at injustice, for example. At loss, at waste, at needless pain.
Yet anger can cause us to sin. “Be angry, but do not sin,” wrote St. Paul; “…give no opportunity to the devil” (Eph 4:26-27).
Anger can be a stimulus to constructive action. When it turns to wrath, it rarely solves, builds up, or heals but does the opposite. Wrath is a heated, pent-up explosion of rage. It aims at retaliation and punishment. It takes judgment into one’s own hands and inflicts it without mercy. With wrath, the person gives up control to the emotion and is harmed along with those around him.
I love this description by Frederick Buechner:
Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. … To savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
(Wishful Thinking Transformed by Thorns, p. 117).
Are you eaten up by anger? Spend some time meditating on one or more of these passages before praying with Psalm 51, “From the sin of wrath, O Lord, deliver me…”
* * * * * * *
Read my post on praying with the Penitential Psalms for Lent here.
Need an antidote for anger? Here’s a post I wrote on Forgiveness for BibleStudyforCatholics.com.