Friday, December 9, 2011

The Deadly Sin of Wrath

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons 

I prefer the term wrath rather than anger when speaking of this deadly sin. Wrath denotes a form of rage  while anger is an emotion that can, if it is just, bring about good. As in the case of acedia and sloth, wrath and anger can mean two separate things. When we think of the term wrath we imagine an  anger out of proportion to its cause. The deadly sins have been watered down a bit over the years and I believe we may have somewhat lost their true meaning as in the case of sloth/acedia. Acedia was the sin the early church wrote about but this was changed to sloth eventually. This also seems to be the case with wrath. Though the two are used interchangeably and I will use them this way in the post, I think wrath conveys the true definition of this deadly sin (Latin - ira) and we could consider anger a little offshoot of the much bigger sin of wrath. It's like comparing a forest fire with the flame from a match stick - one is far easier to put out than the other. Both can burn you if you  get careless though.

1. strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.

2. vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.

Anger: a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility.

I liked the comparison of words denoting the various degrees of anger I found at because this expresses the point I'm trying to make when defining the two words and their offshoots.

Synonyms: anger, rage, fury, wrath, resentment, indignation

These nouns denote varying degrees of marked displeasure. Anger, the most general, is strong displeasure.Wrath applies especially to anger that seeks vengeance or punishment. Resentment refers to indignant smoldering anger generated by a sense of grievance while indignation is righteous anger at something wrongful, unjust, or evil.
In terms of sin, it's clear that wrath is more than simply anger. Wrath is a distortion of anger. True anger seeks justice, wrath seeks vengeance. There's a big difference there. An anger that stems from a yearning for justice motivates, wrath annihilates. Anger properly channeled can build, wrath destroys. Anger can be merciful, wrath abhors mercy. Anger often stems from a love that seeks to change things, wrath from  hatred. Righteous anger has boundaries, wrath very few.  Righteous anger condemns the behavior, wrath condemns the person. In a nutshell, anger has its good points at times but wrath takes anger and becomes destructive instead of constructive.

Some of the signs and symptoms of wrath (unjust anger):
~ vengeful thoughts and behavior
~ irritability
~ fear
~ manipulative behavior
~ depression (can sometimes be a symptom of repressed anger)
~ mood swings
~ impatience
~ addictions (can be outlets for suppressed anger)
~ being overly sweet or too nice (weird but true sometimes)
~ compulsive behaviors
~ destructive behaviors such as road rage
~ insomnia
~ "bad" thoughts  that pop up often (the anger has to go somewhere)
~ chronic tardiness
~ passive aggressive traits
~ difficulty forgiving
~ neck and back problems ( anger makes people stiff and more vulnerable to injuries)
~ chronic illnesses and illness in general (stress compromises the immune system)
~ heart problems
~ strokes

Anger may not be the direct cause of all health issues but it certainly aggravates them. Humans are both body and soul and stress definitely affects our health.  Whether anger is sinful or not depends on the will. If the will consents to the anger then this is when sin comes into play.

What about repressed anger?

This is the area where I ran into trouble. Outwardly, I am very mild mannered and if someone had told me years ago that I had a problem with anger I probably would have laughed. "Me? But I rarely lose my temper!" And that would be true...I didn't get angry very often. (Barely ever, which in itself should have been a clue that things were awry. After all, anger is an emotion and it's not like God forgot to give me the full set.) So, you can imagine my surprise when the Lord decided to reveal that I most certainly DID have a problem with anger. God showed me that I had learned to completely shut down my anger as a child because I wasn't "allowed" to get angry. The thing is - people can't totally shut down their anger without harming themselves, can they?  Even to this day I struggle with calling anger what it is. (Probably the reason I study it so much too.) If we think of the words suppressed, repressed, oppressed,  and depressed  we see the word "pressed" in all of them. Anger is crushing, pressing, and heavy and that's exactly how I often felt inside. If we aim it at others we crush them and if we aim it at ourselves we crush ourselves. People can only handle a certain amount of pressure before it takes its toll and anger is not something we want to carry around with us every day.

Some would say that when we are angry it's better to "let others have it" rather than suppress it. To "let it fly" and to heck with the consequences. The trouble with this is that the consequences of being on the receiving end of this type of anger can be tragic because everyone suffers the brunt of it. Those who "let others have it" do indeed pile their anger on others while still keeping it themselves at the same time. Anger is one of those things that grows and spreads when you share it too generously.

Anger turned outward can bring about oppression, while anger turned inward can bring on depression. Neither of these is healthy, both harm people. Anger can also bring on physical illnesses. Stress really IS a killer.

The opposing virtues to anger/wrath are meekness and patience. The more someone practices patience, the stronger this virtue gets. We all have daily opportunities to develop this virtue - during traffic jams,  in long lines at stores, dealing with cranky customers, etc...

If I were to recommend Scripture passages for the battle against anger (including suppressed/repressed anger), the Psalms would win hands down. We find reflected in the Psalms every emotion under the sun and I believe praying the Psalms gives us a safe place to release our own emotions without harming ourselves or others.

Empathy is another weapon against anger. When we place ourselves in someone else's shoes and understand that they are wounded just like us it takes the sting out of anger. As with envy, it's important to pray for those who have offended us in some way.

 It's not uncommon for those raised in dysfunctional families to suppress their emotions. There may be a lot of hurt, pain, and fear hiding underneath suppressed/repressed anger so forgiveness will likely play a key role when the Lord helps you work through these issues. Trust the Holy Spirit to set the pace for your healing - it can be somewhat overwhelming if we try to push things too quickly. Healing will come over time if we allow the Holy Spirit to go about his work without trying to outrun Him (which leads to a loss of peace).

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.
                                                                                    Eph. 4:26-27


  1. It seems that wrath has an element of pre-meditation. When we think things through and get inwardly wound up and plotting or seeking revenge. Whereas anger can be spontaneous and although no less destructive it may not always be pre-meditated.

    Christ was angry at the traders in the temple.

    His enemies showed wrath towards Him when they had Him arrested and crucified.

    God bless.

  2. Victor,
    That's why I like the Scripture verse about not letting the sun go down on our anger. It tells us that it's okay to be angry but that we need to work through it and not let it simmer or build up. God bless you, too!

  3. Mary...I think I have 75% of those symptoms...yikes! I have been doing all those things you mention especially the praying of the Psalms and the Jesus Prayer. My medications only do so much so I also supplement with vitamins, etc. I think it's something I will always be battling until the good Lord takes it away AT ITS ROOT! Great posts!~Theresa

  4. Theresa,
    Lol...join the crowd :) Everyone has problems with the seven deadly sins and it takes time, effort, and grace to overcome them. The saints all struggled with them too and wrote about them a lot, thankfully! I definitely appreciate their works more and more as time goes on.

  5. Empathy as an antidote to anger - a really great fix. To be empathetic we have to get rid of our inherent narcissism.

    One reason I think God allowed me to have fibromyalgia and all the other neurological problems I have is to teach me empathy. I am consciously working on cutting other people slack and asking God to bless them when they do things to hurt my feelings (which makes me angry).

    I agree with all your suggestions on dealing with anger - repressed or otherwise - prayer in whatever form works and especially, as you wrote, handing all over to God.

    God really wants us to learn charity and He won't leave us in misery if we ask His help. That childish tendency to want to get even is a bad thing to carry around.

  6. Thank you for distinguishing between them. Also like the observation that early Church taught about these, but now it is more watered down.

  7. I am going to borrow your routine for dealing with repressed anger. It's much better than my current routines, which include banging my head against the wall among other things ;)

    God Bless.

  8. Mary, this post is so immensely helpful to me. I had never thought about the difference between wrath and anger and what you say makes so so much sense as I have a lot of experience with my own wrath and anger, unfortunately. I am so thankful for your prayers and will continue to pray for you too.