There is nothing a proud person hates more than someone else’s pride, and there is nothing an angry person hates more than someone else’s anger. That’s probably why a veiled (but barbed) comment, from a legalistic church member will provoke a violent and openly angry response from say, a new Christian teenager in a youth group. In the first situation, the legalistic church member has learned to make their anger socially acceptable (tolerable?)) by repressing it – but their undoing will be the highly sensitive and openly angry teenager who can smell anger a mile away. Hence, the best way to find out if you are carrying repressed anger is to open up your life to angry people.

Anger shows up in many other ways. For example, an angry person leaves their pathway littered with angered people, but it is very difficult to pin the problem down because Mr. Spleen is always so wonderful with the drunks and down-and-outers, he will do anything for you and the boss thinks he is the bee’s knees.

This is because Mr. Spleen is not at all threatened by anyone far below him or far above him on the social scale’ because achievement is what matters most to both these groups of people and Mr. Spleen can maintain a comfortably superficial relationship with them. His tendency to be driven by his repressed anger makes him capable of enormous sacrifices for these others and they will love him for it but the rest will watch in amazement and confusion.

The rest” are his peers: the people that he cannot avoid sharing his life with on a deeper level. They don’t give Mr. Spleen the consideration and respect which he feels they owe him. In a sense he has been trying to emotionally blackmail them with his massive achievements, to the extent that they will feel guilty if they begin to question his personal life.

How dare we question his commitment and his sacrifice? He is untouchable. Don’t we realise he is doing us all a great favour just by being here? In fact it could be argued that he is even doing God a favour: even God is behind on payments to him! And just in case you’re not sure of the facts, he has a score card, a balance sheet—and man does he know it!

So what should our response be? Faithful, creative, honest and patient love because—for his own sake—he must be exposed, and the sooner the better, because, contrary to the ‘balance sheet’, he is frantically ‘amounting to nothing at all’3 as Phillips translates it, in real terms.

It is as if the angry person subconsciously fears that they have made anger or pride the deepest motivation of their heart, instead of love. And for a long time the Spirit of God has been quietly sabotaging their efforts. So of course any attempt by their peers to “draw a bead’ on their anger, brings the same reaction as a fox that sees a gun pointed at it and gets a strong sense of De ja vu.

In the end the only person you really outfox (if you are hiding from your anger) is yourself. It seems that it is to people like this that Jesus says, “Yes you did a great many mighty works in my name, you were a driven achiever, always going for broke– people feared the lash of your tongue – but you were apart from me and you did nothing!”

The driven achiever is very likely to be the one who will give away all he has and even deliver his body to be burned; but because he is not led by love it all comes to nothing. It will be very infuriation for the angry person who gives all for God and at the end of the race instead of getting the, “well done good and faithful servant!” – they get, “sorry, it was all for nothing … and who are you anyway?”

At this point all that built up anger about the ingratitude of your fellow human beings will explode when you find that God treats you the same way. It’s interesting that Jesus turns to the crowd in frustration at one point and says, “Oh you ungrateful generation!”… No he doesn’t, he says, “You faithless generation!”… because his eyes were on the Kingdom of God, not on himself.

When you get frustrated and angry with people is it because you are looking for gratitude? Do you feel that they are a nuisance and that they are lucky you are there? If that is you (or me), then we have been doing nothing for sometime, nothing! The sooner we repent of this, the better.

Some of the worst offenders here are those of us who are in the habit of sensitively complimenting the angry and driven person, leaving them with the impression that they are in fact achieving something, that their self pity is justified, instead of seeing that perhaps the cool reception of others is merely reflecting God’s disappointmrnt. After all who would ever dare to say to someone who has made great sacrifices for the kingdom, “That drew a big zero mate.”? But perhaps we do need to, especially if God is trying to say that to them. The reason we need to be so tough on this problem is because each time this person achieves something (through the driving force of repressed anger) their character becomes a little more like that of the devil, rather that like Christ.

Turning to our own community it seems that God often uses ‘community miasma situations’ as the rock on which us angry people stub our toes, because we place character first, achievement second. This we find ourselves saying, “X community has ruined my Christian life!”4 This is because, we have made “Christlike character” be morphed to fit around our achievements. But the Holy Spirit—that mysterious, mischievous and even comical protagonist5—demands that ‘sensible achievement’ be altered, neglected or even abandoned in order to fit around Christlike character qualities.

Suddenly you discover that the most significant things that happen in your day are more likely to be the times you ‘waste’ with your team members after breakfast or simply learning to make people feel as though you have all day to talk with them.

The trouble is it is so hard to convince the achievement-orientated person about this when they come to you saying, “Look, the dishes were not done, the house was left in a mess and I’m so busy fixing everything up I haven’t got time to talk to anyone!” And Mr. Spleen could also have added, “And no one wants to talk to me either!” The harder he drives himself, the more he frightens people away, hence he tries even harder to win their approval by his achievements but these only gain him more superficial “admiration and respect” which simply makes him more proud and angry, fueling his self righteous indignation.

There are usually at least four things that happen to Mr. Spleen: he becomes the boss (because he is such an achiever) and now vents his spleen at will; he becomes disillusioned and leaves; he has a nervous breakdown or he learns to obey by “living in the holy carelessness of the eternal now”.

There are many other patterns of suppressed anger …

*Be careful what he does with your advice. You give him some advice and he follows it through word for word; then says “There’s a problem because you said I should only do 10 hours but they said I should do 11, so I refused!” The letter of the law not the spirit of the law is his problem.

*Look out if Mr. Spleen does a favour for you. It makes you wonder whether it’s worth getting Mr. Spleen to help you out. But then Mr. Spleen scolds you if he finds out you didn’t ask him for help. You can’t win.

*Mr. Spleen has a massive inferiority complex, watch out if he is particularly talented at something; he will use this to make himself look superior to everyone else. He always tries to be the teacher and is a “know-it-all”. In his own mind the problem is really someone else’s, for he is pretending the problem is not there and that is what repression is all about.

*You tend to conclude that he simply has no social radar, because he is forever claiming ignorance when accused of rudeness, angry talk, flirting etc. And so he will try to methodically be more polite and sensitive, but these are only band aids. His only hope is to recognize that he is one big problem and that it is only if he abandons his identity (which securely based in his driven/angry nature) that Christ can give him a new one. So for a while he will become more insecure, less definite and more disorganized. A bit like what happens when you “go-about” in a sailing boat.

He needs to learn to recognize and confess the angry thought patterns the same way that someone recognizes and confesses lust or greed or unbelief. And the way to do this is to see that God is regularly tipping the cup of circumstances to your lips and you only have two options, drink it thankfully or resist it angrily.

It seems odd that an ordinary old sin like anger should be such an enormous problem for people in Christian discipleship and leadership. But it’s probably because the qualities that go with repressed anger are much sought after. That is, the hard-driving style, the self-sacrificing effort and achievement orientation are all useful to have (if all you want to use the person for is their work output) – but once they have forced a few people to resign you will need to get of them and look for a fresh Mr. Spleen. Unless of course you decide that character is more important than achievement and you see that Mr. Spleen’s self-sacrifice (which is bringing a good harvest for you) is drawing a big zero in the kingdom of God. Could it be that one day you will say to him, “well done good and faithful servant”, and the next day he drops dead and gets the opposite response from the Father?

The following quote (from somewhere) sums it up well …

Every discipline has its corresponding freedom. What freedom corresponds to submission? It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today. People will spend weeks, months, even years in a perpetual stew because some will get mad about it. They will act as if their very life hangs on the issue. In the discipline of submission we are released to drop the matter, to forget it. Frankly, most things in life are not nearly as important as we think they are.” (the source of this quote might be Richard Foster)

31Cor 13:2

4See the ‘Absolute Pits’ Diagram

5Walter Brueggemann. Divine Presence Amid Violence, 2011