“I Flunked Anger Management” (Genetic Predispositions, Part 3) November 01 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

We ended Part 2 of our Genetic Predisposition series with the thought that there will be many scientific discoveries about genetics in the years to come. Some of these may be related to health, while others may be associated with certain propensities we have as humans. There is no conflict with the Scriptures here. These discoveries will just be confirming what the Word of God has been telling us for centuries – that we humans have weaknesses and propensities. We knew this all along. What we need to remember, though, is that God displays His strength through our weaknesses. We saw that with the disciples in Part 2 (see August 24 blog).

The Scriptures also give us practical guidance on how to have victory despite whatever weaknesses we may have or how difficult the circumstances may be. If we are concerned that we have some sort of genetic predisposition, the solution is to dwell not on the predisposition, but on the same commands that the disciples had, preserved in the Bible for us to read today.

One of the things I do as I’m traveling around is observe messages that people have on the clothes they wear. I went back through my collection and found several sayings related to human behavior that I had seen on tee-shirts, such as:

  • “I flunked anger management”
  • “Patrick was a saint. I ain’t”
  • “I didn’t choose the thug life, it chose me”
  • “Sarcasm: just one of my many talents”

I’m sure people have many reasons for wearing clothes with messages like this. They may have meant it to be funny, but one of the underlying reasons could be so that other people will not give them such a hard time when they exhibit this behavior. The message that comes across is “This is just the way I am. Don’t bother me.”

Even though we may find this amusing, we can tend to do the same thing in more subtle ways. For example, let’s take the first one. In reality, all of us have “flunked anger management” in one way or another. While it may or may not be a habitual pattern, we have at some point been “angry with our brother,” and Jesus told us not to take that lightly (Matthew 5:21). We might blame an outburst of anger on our being tired, as a response to someone treating us unfairly, on a set of difficult circumstances, on a difference of opinion we have with someone, or on an act of a family member that did not meet our expectations (children come to mind).

Anger is said to be one of the most common personal problems known to mankind. It was at the heart of the world’s first murder (Genesis 4:5), and is involved in the great majority of violent incidents, from domestic violence to mass shootings. While certain ethnic groups have been given the dubious reputation (rightly or wrongly) of being more prone to anger, none of us are immune to this failing. All of us can be tempted to exhibit anger.

In addition, some of us have come from very difficult circumstances, ungodly family environments, foster care, financially destitute, no Christian background, and other situations seemingly with little hope. But the beauty and power of the Christian faith is that no one is beyond redemption. Paul describes the result of a new relationship to Christ in 1 Corinthians 6:11. After having listed (in verses 9-10) sins that are characteristic of a life apart from God, he writes “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Note that “such were” means that you are no longer a slave to sin. You are a brand-new person when you become a Christian, and there is nothing (to include genetic predispositions), that can keep you from a life of joy, contentment, and obedience in Jesus Christ. How can you have a greater hope than that?

Having said that, change can be difficult, no matter where we have come from. We still have temptations and habits from our “former manner of life” (Ephesians 4:22). So let’s take the propensity to anger as an example and work through it from a biblical standpoint. The approach is the same whether our anger stems from development of a habit or from a genetic predisposition we think we might have.

In Lesson 11 of the BCF Self-Confrontation course, we give an illustration of how anger can be brought under control very quickly at any given moment. Let’s say you are in your house having a full-blown shouting match, when all of a sudden, the phone rings. You take the call, and immediately your tone of voice changes, because you don’t want someone outside the family (like your boss or pastor) to know how angry you can be. In other words, it is possible to control your anger even in an emotionally charged situation.

Even those who believe they have a genetic predisposition toward anger can control their demonstration of anger when it is in their interest to do so. In other words, we choose whether or not to demonstrate anger. We are never forced into a transgression by another outside force, whether that be a genetic predisposition, another person, or a circumstance. This is great hope, but also carries with it responsibility, because we cannot legitimately say “you made me angry” or otherwise excuse away our anger.

To be sure, resisting the temptation to anger can be more difficult for some than others, in some cases because of having developed a habit pattern that is now more difficult to correct. This blog is not about debating whether genetic predispositions exist; it is about the hope believers can have and the possibility of changing even when a pattern seems to be so ingrained that it has become a “life-dominating practice.”  We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is comforting to know that we are not forced into sin because of our genetics or any other circumstance, but there are specific principles to apply to help us have victory. This is what being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) is all about. The Scriptures provide hope and instruction even for those who have habitually “flunked anger management.”

Lesson 7 of Self-Confrontation presents the practical, biblical truths of putting off the practices of the former manner of life by laying aside the old self and “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24). This is immediately followed with examples of biblical “put-offs” and “put-ons,” describing biblical ways to change: from a life of lying, to a life of truth-telling; from a life of stealing to a life of working and sharing; from a life of tearing down to a life of building up; and from a life of anger and bitterness to a life of kindness and forgiveness. The emphasis of Scripture is to focus on the “put-on,” and the “put-off” will occur as a byproduct. In other words, the person who is angry toward another person should seek ways to “put-on” kindness and forgiveness toward the very person with whom they are angry. And if the other person does not recognize or accept that, or believe we are sincere, just remember that we are not doing it to get a response back, but are doing it for the Lord, who loved and forgave us, even though we didn’t deserve it. Lesson 7 then goes on to how we can develop a specific plan for change.

While anger can lead to violent acts, it can also come out in many other ways: through our harsh words (spoken or written), our tone of voice, a slammed door, or even just a stare. We have all seen these things demonstrated at one time or another, and likely have been perpetrators a few times ourselves. Strong emotions are usually associated with anger, but while emotions can be extremely strong, we can still choose not to exhibit anger in our speech and actions. Even our thought life can be brought under control. By God’s grace, He enables us to make the right choices even when our emotions are going in the other direction.

Keep in mind that what God says for us to do in Ephesians 4 is in response to the “riches of His grace which He lavished on us,” as described in Chapters 1-3. The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us even in our weakness, and God’s grace and mercy become our motivation for making godly choices, despite how we feel. Overcoming our propensity to sin is not simply another “self-help” program invented by the world. It is all anchored in our response of gratitude to what Jesus has already done for us.

Some people might be thinking at this point, “isn’t it being hypocritical or fake to be kind and forgiving even when we don’t feel like it?” Not at all. Rather, it is the way we demonstrate sacrificial love for God and others – the very type of love that brought Jesus to the cross for us. It is similar to when we get out of bed in the morning even though we may not feel like it. Getting out of bed, despite our feelings, is fundamentally an act of love. What would make us a hypocrite is saying “I love getting out of bed in the morning” even when we don’t really feel like it. So too, demonstrating love even when we don’t feel like it, gives great honor to the Lord and is a testimony to those around us.

The BCF “Victory Over Failures Plan” is a resource that can be useful in applying biblical principles that help us overcome our weaknesses or predispositions. It talks about the put-offs, put-ons, and making plans for change for many different types of problems. If you have questions about this or other blog posts, please e-mail blog@bcfministries.org. You may also subscribe to the blog by emailing that address and put “Subscribe to blog” in the subject line. If you need general information about BCF, you can access our home page at www.bcfministries.org

Steve Smith