Why We Harbor Anger
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Why We Harbor Anger
By Dr. Charles Stanley
Most believers know it’s wrong to hold a grudge, acknowledging that God alone has the right to avenge wrongs. They understand that the Bible teaches us to deal quickly with anger. So why do Christians often hang on to this destructive emotion? I believe there are six basic reasons why believers fail to surrender their anger to God.
Hindrances to Healing
First, unwillingness to forgive can be the result of selfishness.
When you are hurt, you become concerned primarily with yourself, your rights, and your feelings. You wait for the world to come to you and ask for forgiveness. After all, you think, it was the other person’s fault. This is selfish, since you have the power to change but choose not to make the first move.
Second, the problem can be pride.
Those who are conceited have difficulty forgiving. They think, If I forgive, people will think I’m weak. Harboring anger makes us feel as if we are hurting others, when in fact, we are destroying ourselves. The real problem is that when you and I set out to get even, we assume a responsibility that has been given to Christ alone. He is the Judge—in time, those who have wounded us will pay the penalty for their sin (Rom. 14:10). We are called, not to take vengeance, but to forgive.
Third, people refuse to forgive because they have low self-esteem.
Often, without really understanding what is taking place, people attach their significance to the wrong they suffered. I’ve met men and women who have lived most of their adult lives in response to mistreatment by an unfair boss. They are constantly saying things like, “I wouldn’t be struggling if it were not for . . .” or “I could have gone far if I had not lost my job with . . .” The unfair circumstances become a point of reference for everything else in their lives.
When this happens to people, they cannot afford to forgive. To deal with the hurt they have suffered would be to take away an essential part of their identity. They have come to rely on sympathy from others—giving it up would mean no more excuses for their lack of diligence and discipline.
Do you have a habit of bringing up a particular event in your life when you were treated unfairly? To know for sure, ask your close friends or your spouse. Without realizing it, you may have allowed your identity to become defined by one painful circumstance. To experience the joy and freedom available to you in Christ, you must forgive those who have wronged you and move on.
Fourth, you may be unwilling to forgive because of a previous attempt to do so.
Sometime in the past, you acknowledged the hurt and admitted the “need” to forgive others. You may have even prayed, “I forgive __________.” Perhaps you meant it sincerely. But are you still uncomfortable around those individuals? Do you become tense in situations that remind you of them? If so, then it’s possible that your wound has not completely healed.
Fifth, some people refuse to forgive because it is painful.
Thinking about past wounds often brings back the original unpleasant emotions. Forgiveness can be especially difficult if the wrong hurt so deeply that the pain suffered was buried and forgotten. This is especially true of those who were hurt as children. Physical or emotional abuse, incest, rape, severe beatings, or catching a parent in an extramarital affair are extremely traumatic. Sometimes those incidents have all but been erased from memory. Yet they are often the key to complete healing and freedom.
If you live with events in your past that are agonizing to think about, accept by faith that being set free is worth the pain. God wants to perform spiritual surgery to remove your bitterness and misery. It will hurt, but it will heal. And whatever scar may be left will be much easier to live with than the open wound you now bear.
Finally, you may not know how to forgive.
Maybe you are at the point of being able to say, “I am ready. Just tell me what to do.” You just need a little instruction on how to forgive.
Where Are You?
Have you been wronged recently or in your past? Was your tendency to try to forget about it, to move on to something or somebody else? Did you get into the habit of burying some painful emotion that seemed to raise its ugly head time and time again? Did you find yourself staying away from certain people or types of people?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are there are some people you need to forgive. You may be harboring an unforgiving spirit. Don’t allow pride and selfishness to get in the way. And don’t let fear of the ensuing pain stop you. You may be on the verge of an awesome miracle in your life.
Adapted from “The Gift of Forgiveness” (1991).