Most of us know what violent anger looks like. It comes with dramatic volume, red face, fists flying, and visible damage done. But what if I told you that all anger is violent, and the even the silent, passive aggressive form, has its own form of destructiveness? Even silent anger is violent in nature.
All sinful anger tears apart and is destructive in nature. Anger is a moral response to a perceived wrong. My anger says, “this isn’t right, and that matters.” Sinful anger says, “this isn’t right, and it matters more than you do.” Sinful anger puts my sense of justice above my care and compassion for you. So that I am willing to make things right in my own world apart from any attempt to reconcile with you or help you. It approaches problems with a primarily selfish concern and demand to get my way. Anger is about having my desires met (James 4:1-2).
We recognizes the destructiveness of aggressive and visible anger. We see hatred in the others person’s eyes, we feel their disregard, and we experience their selfishness in rage and fist. Silent anger creates division too, but in a more subtle way. It is violent in a more nuanced but no less destructive fashion. Consider a few of the forms of silent anger and we can more readily see its violence.
The cold shoulder – The cold shoulder acts as if the other person doesn’t exist. It cuts them out of our temporal realm of acknowledgment. It says I don’t like you right now and as a result you are dead to me. You may speak but I don’t hear you. You may enter a room but I don’t see you. You may know me but I don’t know you. Jesus speaks to this in one sense when he addresses the anger in our hearts. He says:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:21-22)
Jesus equates murder and anger in this text. The cold shoulder is a way of saying to someone else, “I wish you didn’t exist right now, and so I am going to act as though you don’t.” It’s a direct realization of Jesus’ equation.
Sarcasm/subtle jabs – though they are made indirectly the intent of these comments is to cut someone down. Joking and/or passive-aggressive comments serve to cloak the real intent, but they are cutting nonetheless. We make these sorts of comments as a way to indicate our disapproval but without any willingness to solve the problems that generated it. We want people to feel our displeasure but we are unwilling to address problems directly. This leaves people feeling the distance between us but without granting them the tools and invitation to address the distance. It creates space but offers no bridge to reunite. Even when people address the comments they are often met with rebuff: “It’s just a joke,” “I was just stating facts,” “don’t be so sensitive.” These are violent acts in that they create distance through cutting words, but they offer no recourse to repair the distance.
Bitterness – bitterness is mostly internal, but no less destructive. The damage is not isolated to the bitter individual, for their feelings towards the relationship have changed and will eventually emerge. Violence manifests in our own internal breaking off of the relationship. Bitterness says that we can’t forgive, won’t get over, and are unwilling to let go of an offense. It’s not that there isn’t legitimate offense, there certainly can be, but bitterness harbors resentment and hostility towards those who have offended us and lives with it. Violence to the relationship is obviously more subtle, but it is still present and eventually all parties will sense it.
Anger tears asunder what God has joined together. It can do this in overt and aggressive ways, or it can do it in more subtle and covert forms. All sinful anger is necessarily violent. We may not walk away from conflict with black eyes, but the emotional, personal, and relational violence we feel is just as real. In fact, cutting words can be experienced as very violent and damaging to individuals. We ought always to be conscious of our own anger and the ways that we are violently harming one another. No anger is innocent, no matter how internalized we think it is. All anger impacts others even while not all anger is interpersonal in nature.
We must be willing to see this as we seek to grow. Addressing anger is not merely about avoiding certain external responses. We must seek to address the root of anger in our own hearts and seek to navigate conflict with others in ways that are humble and direct. We want reconciliation not revenge. We want relationship not justice. Silent anger is not a solution to our anger problems, it’s just another form of the same violence.