Following on from my message about training yourself to love your enemy, this edition I will be reflecting on anger. Anger is something that can take over, if you don’t spend the time to deal with it. Anger can lead to revenge, especially if you find it impossible to forgive. That combination, anger with no forgiveness, can be lethal.
Just listen to this reflection, written at the end of World War I, and then I will tell you who wrote it.
“The Fatherland would have to bear heavy burdens in the future. We were to accept the terms of the Armistice and trust to the magnanimity of our former enemies. It was impossible for me to stay and listen any longer. Darkness surrounded me as I staggered and stumbled back to my ward and buried my aching head between the blankets and pillow. […] So all had been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations, in vain the hunger and thirst for endless months, in vain those hours that we stuck to our posts though the fear of death gripped our souls, and in vain the deaths of two millions who fell in discharging this duty.”
The author? Adolf Hitler.
At the end of World War I, which the Germans lost, there was a very heavy price which they had to pay: it bankrupted Germany and eventually lead to a depression in Germany. Their economy collapsed before the world-wide Great Depression and almost certainly contributed to it. The cost of losing the First World War was enormous: the German people were humiliated. Adolf Hitler took his rage, took the German humiliation, and galvanised into action. He made people proud to be German again. He rebuilt industry. Unfortunately, he was also a madman and a racist, and it was his insane anger and hatred which eventually consumed him. His experience of humiliation at the end of the First World War, and his inability to deal with his anger and to forgive his enemies, resulted in the horrible events of Nazi Germany and the Second World War.
Giving up anger: Jesus’ teaching on anger (see Matthew 5: 21–24) is quite profound, especially when you remember the context. Revenge was a very common thing in the ancient world. If someone hurt you or your family and your honour was damaged, the natural response was to take revenge. That was the way things worked.
We forget this! We forget this because Jesus taught a new way of life and most of the world has embraced this new way of life in the way we treat other people. So, we forget that in the old days, this was not so! Revenge, not forgiveness, was the norm. Anger, not peace, was the norm.
Let me tell you my story of anger and needing to let it go. After I finished studying to be a priest and finished my undergraduate degree in theology through Flinders University I was still an angry young man. I was angry at the world, somewhat strangely, because I had just been ordained a priest and priests are supposed to be peaceful, loving and forgiving; but, I was an angry young man. I was posted for my first placement out to St John’s Church, Salisbury, to be the assistant priest. I was sitting in the Church one day, contemplating a painting. It was a really simple picture of Jesus, an icon in the Eastern Orthodox style. The idea with icons is that they draw you into the picture. As you meditate on them, the idea is that you are drawn closer to God. Well, that is exactly what happened to me: I was drawn closer to God and I felt all of my anger melt away. It was a physical sensation. I felt that a great weight had been lifted from my neck and shoulders. It was a quite physical experience. I was able to let go of anger and forgive the people I was feeling anger towards.
Letting go of anger is the first step towards being able to forgive. It’s the first step towards being strong and lovely. If we can train ourselves to be strong and lovely, the world will be a better place; and the interesting thing is that, being lovely will give us strength.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall