Anger is defined in the dictionary as: a strong feeling that come when one has been wronged or insulted, or when one sees cruelty or injustice; the feeling that makes people want to quarrel or fight. Anger can lead us to action in correcting wrongs or lead us to perdition when we lash out at those around us, and thus we ask:
Is anger good or bad?
In Theology, we describe anger as a passion. Therefore, we cannot say in principle that it is good or bad in itself. The passions are powers given to man to attain what is good for him in this world; but they must be under the control of reason and will. The passions are like the power of an automobile. As long as the driver is in command of the automobile, the driving power of the motor will take him safely where he wishes to go; but if he loses control of the car, both the driver and the car come to grief.
When a person loses control and allows him/herself to be ruled by his/her passions, by anger, he/she is led into destruction, to the ruin of his/her human personality. There is a sort of downward spiral: anger may turn into bitterness and bitterness into hatred. The case of Cain killing his brother Abel is the best illustration.
Holy Scriptures tells us that we are flawed people in relationships with flawed people, in a fallen world, but with a faithful God. Because we see and know that the world is moving in ways we know should not be, we can and oftentimes fall into anger; that is why at times, the Bible also says that God Himself was angry with His people. This is an anger that wanted to set things right.
Christ in us will empower us to increasingly engage our fallen planet with the restorative anger of love, the rescuing anger of mercy, and the advocacy anger of justice. How can this be achieved?
Chapter 13 of the Gospel of John, which is read on Holy Thursday, narrates the story of the washing of the feet of the disciples, followed by the departure of Judas and the denial of Peter. This episode illustrates how anger operates in the human heart and how it is transformed into hatred or into love. Let us look into four protagonists of this story: Jesus, Peter, Judas, and the beloved Disciple. Three men responding differently to God’s love manifested in the love of Jesus:
Judas rejects and fears love. He pushes Jesus away. He hates him. Peter cannot understand Jesus. In bitterness he denies him.
The Beloved Disciple overcomes this intense moment of anger and frustration and surrenders to Jesus‘ love and becomes an intimate friend.
We discover these three attitudes in each one of us at different moments of our lives. That is why they are set for our consideration on the most sacred celebration of Christianity: the sacrificial death of Christ as the supreme act of love of God for us:
Judas is both a friend and one of Jesus’ chosen ones, who turns to hate him and finally agrees to help get rid of him. In a language difficult for us to understand, the gospel says that Satan enters into the heart of Judas and he leaves the place where Jesus has washed his feet and shared his food with him. He is imprisoned in darkness. He is filled with anger and self-hate; he cannot remain still. He is unable to open to Jesus, he had to leave. The evangelist comments: It was night. Not just outside, but more so in Judas’ heart. Hatred is the darkness of the heart.
Like Judas, at times, we can be in revolt towards Jesus and want to be left alone, autonomous, and not dependent on love. Anger takes the best of us and it may turn into hatred.
Peter is unable to understand the weakness, the vulnerability, and humility of Jesus and protests. He swears he will stand bv Jesus no matter what. But then he goes on to deny him three times. Unlike Judas, Peter weeps bitterly over that and asks for forgiveness. He has to become humbler and to trust even when he does not understand.
Like Peter, we can have moments where Jesus and the way He lives and loves confuses us. We may want to do things that are acceptable on the social or political level or change things in our own way. In pursuing tangible, visible, instant results, we may turn away from a communion of love with Jesus. Bitterness ought to be transformed into love. This is why after his resurrection, Jesus asked Peter that painful question three times: “Peter, do you love me?”
The Beloved Disciple is shown reclining on the heart of Jesus. With his head resting on the heart of Jesus, the beloved disciple must have sensed the wounded, anguished heart of Jesus, his vulnerability, his littleness, his pain in the face of Judas’ betrayal. Jesus is terribly hurt, wounded by the rejection of his love. The closeness and hardness of Judas, the hate emanating from him, must have awoken deep anguish within Jesus. The Beloved Disciple must have wanted to comfort and to console the wounded heart of Jesus by showing Him his love and trust.
The Beloved Disciple reveals to us that we are called to be in communion with Jesus and to receive in our hearts all that is in His heart, the love and pain: to remain in Him and He in us, one in love.