7 practices to help heal your angry heart

May 9, 2016

If you have an anger problem, it could be that you are just too religious.

When Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes,” he was not telling us to try harder. Jesus’ first concern is not what we do but who we are. He is more concerned with our heart than our behavior. The righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes never fixes the heart. It only legislates behavior, and whenever we try to mask our broken hearts with good behavior, we not only play the hypocrite, but we lose our ability to love God and love other people; and we become angry.

Here is what Jesus said in Matthew 5:21-26,

You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

As Jesus quoted the Law, “Do not murder,” it is likely his hearers felt pretty good about themselves. They knew of a few murderers, but they were not murderers. So what did this have to do with them? Then Jesus said, “But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

When sin has its way, hate replaces love and contempt replaces compassion. The first recorded act of sin outside of the Eden was a brother murdering his brother. There was no self-defense involved. It was not accidental. It was a crime against another human being, rooted in anger. So Jesus gets to the heart of the issue and said just as the murderer will be subject to judgment, so will the one who is angry with his brother.

But Paul indicates that not all anger is wrong by writing, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Jesus showed indignation toward the religious leaders on a number of occasions. So Jesus was not condemning anger toward injustice. Neither was he talking about the anger of personal frustration. Instead, he was condemning a selfish anger, rooted in pride, jealousy, unforgiveness and bitterness toward the people around us. He was confronting our unwillingness to love one another. Jesus’ goal here was not to reduce crime, but to confront and ultimately heal the corruption of our hearts.

Our lack of love shows itself in a number of ways, but it is most quickly revealed in our speech. Jesus called out the word “raca.” Some translations use the word “fool,” but it could also be translated, “air head,” “jerk,” or “worthless.” It was a well-known word of contempt, which even sounded rough when spoken. It was intended to mark another person as one with no value. Jesus went further and said, “Whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.” Raca impugns a person’s worth, but “moron” shows disregard for a person’s character. You have to face the religious tribunal (the Sanhedrin) for “raca,” but “moron” will land you in hell. Jesus was very serious about this and our lack of love for one another.

He was so serious that he said we cannot relate to God with any kind of authenticity if we are in conflict with the people around us. Jews would bring their gifts on the Day of Atonement to offer as a sacrifice. It was a big deal that only happened once every year. It was a real sacrifice that required planning and travel. Their righteousness, so they thought, depended on it. But Jesus said, don’t bring your gift until you have reached out for reconciliation with your brother. Our problem with another person is not just between two people. People problems are an offense against God.

It could be that our worship is so dry; it could be that our prayers are empty; it could be that our appetite for God’s Word is so small; it could be that our service is fruitless because of our attitudes of pride, jealousy, unforgiveness and bitterness toward the people around us.

So Jesus said to take care of the conflict before it goes to the judge. Jesus was referring to actual court proceedings and encouraging both parties to settle out of court or else they would have to live the harsher legal ruling of the judge, in which case would be a tougher pill to swallow. He was saying that if we refuse to deal with our anger when it is small, it will only grow too big to handle at all.

How then do we “reach a settlement” with our brother who has become our adversary? Here are seven practices of reconciliation that can bring healing to our angry hearts.

  1. Humble yourself. Just because we have not killed someone yet, does not mean we are without guilt. When we are offended, our pain is legitimate. But when we have been offended, it is also very likely our brokenness has affected the offender in ways we know nothing about. The other person may be just as hurt as we are. We may or may not deserve the treatment we are getting, but we all deserve much worse than we are getting. The log in our own eye is there, and until we acknowledge it and deal with it, we will have a difficult time reconciling with anyone else. Humility is the currency of reconciliation.
  2. Show honor. The terms “raca” and “moron” were bad words that revealed a bad attitude. Paul wrote, “Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). Affection and honor are signs of respect. They are not only attitudes; they are actions. Jesus demonstrated his love for us. We did not deserve it, but he showed it by giving his life. We do not endorse offensive behavior; but by giving our time and effort to others, we show honor to them as people who have value as image bearers of God.
  3. Guard speech. Jesus flat out condemned calling people names or speaking of one another in negative ways. Maybe you have noticed, but we often feel justified to offend whenever we have been offended. Our negative speech often validates our negative attitudes, but biblical Christianity calls us to something better than that. “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Prov. 16:24). Our speech should be pleasant to the ears and to the soul of those who hear, and even to those who do not hear us right away.
  4. Take initiative. Jesus said, “Go and be reconciled.” If you know there is something between you and another person, step forward and show concern and a willingness to reconcile. We can never anticipate or control their response, but that is not our job. Our job is to obey God and trust him with the results. “If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Rom. 12:18, emphasis mine).
  5. Move faster than slower. Jesus said to make it quick. First settle the conflict, and then bring your gifts. Conflicts may get quieter with time, but they never get smaller. You may have a cool down period so that emotions are in check, but Jesus calls us to settle our accounts without delay. The longer the conflict continues, the more pain and bitterness grows and the more opportunity for public disgrace.
  6. Forgive like you have been forgiven. Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker is extremely helpful here. He makes the point that forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is not forgetting. We do not have the capacity to forget. And forgiveness is not excusing the offense. Instead, forgiveness is a decision to “release from the liability to suffer punishment.” It is as if we forgive a debt. We consider it paid, although it is not, and we “absorb the liability someone else deserves to pay.” When we forgive, we do not dwell on the offense, we do not bring it up or use it against them, we do not talk about it to others, and we do not allow the offense to stand between us. “Remembering what Jesus did to purchase our forgiveness should be our greatest incentive to release others from the penalties they deserve.” Perhaps our greatest testimony to the grace of God is how we forgive others who have deeply wounded us.
  7. Trust God. “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for his wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom.12:19). Here is a liberating thought: We do not have to manage all of the consequences of another person’s offense. God is perfectly capable of that. God is also very capable of healing what has been lost. Sometimes restoration is possible. Other times it may be out of reach. But either way we can rest in the sovereign hands of God.

Paul wrote, “But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:20-21). Instead of trying to fix people and right wrongs, we just keep serving people, and we trust God to change hearts.

We must not think that because we are not on death row, we do not deserve to be. We may not have murdered anyone, but we may have allowed anger toward another person to feed a root of bitterness in our hearts. Perhaps it is time to kill the root and restore the relationship. Until we do, we are the offender in need of the very mercy we are withholding.

This article was originally published here.

Daryl Crouch

Following 28 years in pastoral ministry, Daryl Crouch now leads Everyone’s Wilson, a community transformation initiative that helps churches bring the whole community around every school so that every student, educator, and family can live whole. He’s married to Deborah, and they have four children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24