MAKING ANGER WORK

NAHUM 1:1-6

 

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            Charlie Brown and Linus are engaged in deep conversation.  Their arms are resting on a wall.  Linus has his elbows on the wall and his head in his hands.  Gazing straight ahead, he speaks.  “When I get big I’d like to be a prophet.”

            Staring into space, Charlie Brown says, “That’s a fine ambition ... the world can always us a few good prophets.”

            Then he turns to Linus, looks him in the eye, and says, “The only trouble is that most of them turn out to be false prophets.”

            Linus thinks for a moment and says, “Maybe I could be a sincere false prophet.”[1]

            I doubt many high school and college graduates today seek to become a prophet.  When it comes to being a prophet, jobs are scarce, the pay is low, and the rewards are few.  Back in Old Testament times, however, the jobs were plentiful, the pay was adequate, and the rewards were great, at least when it came to putting a smile on God’s face, and this morning we turn our attention to another minor prophet, a prophet named Nahum.  Before we begin reading his prophecy, however, I want to make a couple of introductory remarks about him.

            First, I want you to know that Nahum today may be the least appreciated of all the minor prophets.  The Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” but for the most part the church today pretty much excludes Nahum from Paul’s words.  Many in the church today wish Nahum was not in the Bible.  They see Nahum’s prophecy as a vengeful, nationalistic expression of Israel’s triumph over an enemy, and as a result the book has almost been totally ignored in the modern church.  In fact, if you worship in a church that uses the lectionary for it’s preaching schedule, a three-year cycle that touches upon the main themes of the Bible, you will never hear a sermon from Nahum because Nahum has been excluded from the lectionary. 

            The other thing I want to say about Nahum, in addition to his unpopularity today, concerns his creativity.  By that I mean, Nahum used acrostic poetry in delivering his message.  In other words, each verse of chapter one begins with a successive letter from the Hebrew alphabet.  We would see that if Nahum had prophesied in English.  If he had prophesied in English, verse one would begin with the letter “A,” verse two with the letter “B,” verse three with the letter “C,” and so on and so forth.  The only other incident in the bible of acrostic writing in the occurs in Psalm 119 and portions of Lamentations. 

            So, that’s Nahum, and let’s turn to his prophecy, and particularly what he has to teach us about anger.  If anything characterizes the age in which we live, it is anger.  We live in a high-tech, high-rage age.  When we lived in Orlando, Florida they even had a “Ticked-Off” section of the newspaper.  They still do  Listen to three things that really ticked people off this past week in Central Florida ...

 

            I'm ticked off at my friends, neighbors and family who borrow my VHS tapes and DVDs and do not return them.

 

            I'm ticked off that my cat goes outdoors early in the morning for about a half hour, then comes back inside and uses the kitty litter box.

 

            I’m ticked off at people who have pierced noses.  The studs make you look like you have a big wart on your nose, and the rings make you look like you’re prized livestock or like there’s something hanging out of your nose.

 

            At the end of the “Ticked Off” section of the newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel posts a phone number and advertises,

 

            Call this number whenever you want to gripe, grouse, whine, bellyache, criticize, condemn, dress down or blow up - whenever you’re Ticked Off! about anything at all and you just can’t take it anymore.

            Our phone system will record your rantings, and they may be printed in this column.  It’s cheaper than therapy - and it’s anonymous.

 

            Well, God had a “Ticked Off” service of God’s own.  Instead of calling the local newspaper, God calls one of his prophets and they would publish God’s rantings, and this morning listen to what has God seeing red.  We begin with chapter one, verse one, on page 759 ...

           

            An oracle concerning Ninevah.  The book of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh.

 

            Quick review.  We’ve seen Ninevah mentioned before in our minor prophets series.  Who was the prophet who traveled, rather reluctantly to Ninevah?  And Ninevah was the capital of what nation?  OK, let’s continue reading.

 

            A jealous and avenging God is the Lord, the Lord is avenging and wrathful;

            the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and rages against his enemies.

            The Lord is slow to anger but great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.

            His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

 

            As a quick aside, note the beautiful word picture Nahum paints ... “the clouds are the dust of his feet.”  Once again, Nahum is one of the more creative, one of the more artistic of the minor prophets.  Let’s read on ...

 

            He rebukes the sea and makes it dry, and he dries up all the rivers;

            Bashan and Carmel wither, and the bloom of Lebanon fades.

            The mountains quake before him and the hills melt;

            The earth heaves before him, the world and all that live in it.

            Who can stand before his indignation?  Who can endure the heat of his anger?

            His wrath is poured out like fire, and by him the rocks are broken in pieces.

 

            Two emotions have given me trouble as a Christian, let alone as a pastor.  One is depression.  For a number of years I battled it.  For about seven years it was incredibly intense, and embarrassing.  No one outside of Trudy knew about it, but for seven years I struggled to integrate my depression with the hope we possess in Jesus Christ.  I even considered leaving pastoral ministry because of it because how can you preach hope and live in depression?  Then I discovered the depression was a chemical imbalance inherited through my family’s DNA, and started on a medication and have been fine ever since ... at least as long as I stay on the anti-depressant.

            The other emotion that has given me difficulty is anger.  I’ve struggled with it theologically.  After all, isn’t anger one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and didn’t Jesus say, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and “Turn the other cheek?”  Having been raised with such messages I have struggled with whether I can be a good Christian when I’m angry.

            Add to that, I did not have the best models for expressing anger.  My mother, God bless her soul, when she became angry alternated between Mt. Vesuvius and Glacier National Park.  Some days she would blow up and other days she would freeze me out.  My father, when anger with me, refused to see me for eight months.  It’s a long story, but when he divorced his second wife, my step-mother for twenty-one years, he wanted me to divorce her as well.  When I would not, he stopped speaking to me.

            And to tell you the truth, when I get angry it scares me.  It shocks me what goes on inside of me when I become angry.  Mark Twain advised, “When angry count to four.  When very angry, swear!”  In this regard, you wouldn’t believe the names I’ve called people to myself and those intense feelings scare me.  What would happen if those inner thoughts escaped and I ended up saying those things to someone?

            So, what do we do with anger?  Well, that’s where Nahum has something to say.  Nahum reminds us that anger is a Godly emotion.  In the Old Testament the anger of the Lord is mentioned no less than eighteen times.  One of those eighteen occurrences belong to Nahum.  Let’s reread some of the key verses in the first chapter that pertain to God’s anger.  Nahum says of God and anger ...

 

            The Lord is slow to anger but great in power, and the Lord will by not means clear the guilty ... the mountains quake before him and the hills melt; the earth heaves before him, the world and all who live in it ... who can stand his indignation?  Who can endure the heat of his anger?

 

            And let’s not be too quick to dismiss Nahum’s picture of an angry God as an out dated Old Testament picture of God that was transformed by the peaceful, loving, meek, quiet Jesus.  On the contrary, Jesus also became angry.  He cleared the Temple overturning tables in the process.  And Jesus never spoke more angrily and forthrightly than he did to the religious hypocrites.  In Matthew 23 we hear Jesus say, “Woe to you, you ... you white-washed tombs ... you serpents.”

            God gets angry, Jesus gets angry, and we get angry.  Anger is a God-given emotion, so why do we have so many problems with it?  The answer lies in the expression of anger.  Anger is not a sin, but the way we express it can be, and so how do we express this God-given emotion in ways that are appropriate and responsible.  In other words, as the Apostle Paul said how can we “be angry, but sin not?”

            In response to this. let me share four nuggets from people I admire.  The first nugget comes from Lloyd Oglivie, the former chaplain of the United States Senate.  Ogilvie’s nugget is this: “There is no such thing as unexpressed anger.”  We may choose to swallow our anger or ignore it, but’s it still gets expressed, in such ways as high blood pressure, stomach disorders, depression.  Swallowed anger has another potential adverse side affect.  I call it volcanoeing ... exploding disproportionately to the cause of the anger.  It’s a little like running over someone with a Sherman tank when a slingshot would have sufficed. 

            Nugget number two comes from the Episcopalian priest and author, Morton Kelsey.  In his book Caring Kelsey writes, “I need to catch my anger while it’s still in flight, before it has come down on another person.”[2]  The author of Proverbs said something similar.  He wrote, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from trouble.”

            Now someone will say, “There’s no way I can control what I say.  It just comes out.”  Oh yeah?  Have you ever considered how angry you can be at a boss or a superior but weigh every word you say in expressing your anger?  We can do a very good job weighing what we say to people who have clout or power over us, and that weighing, that catching our anger in flight needs to be transferred to all relationships. 

            Nugget number three comes from Chuck Swindoll.  In his book Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back, he writes, “Cultivate honesty in communication ... don’t let anger build up.”[3]  The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  In other words, deal with anger on a day to day basis.  This is where so many relationships get into trouble.  We don’t deal with our anger in a timely fashion.  Sometimes we hear people say, “Not only that, but also a couple of months ago you did such and such and said this and that.”  If we weren’t smart enough to deal with yesterday’s arguments yesterday we need to let them go.  We need to draw a curtain around them.  We have missed our chance to deal with them.  Today’s arguments are usually big enough not to be overburdened by yesterday’s unresolved ones.

            Nugget four comes from Harold Bloomfield.  In his excellent book Making Peace with Your Parents he writes, “Effective anger is receptive.”  After the anger has been shared, the next step is allowing the recipient of it to respond.  No storming off.  We need to wait and listen and clarify and work to understand what the recipient of our anger wants to say in response.  You see, we may have misjudged the situation.  Maybe there is something we overlooked and need to change.  Our angry feeling may have had a misappropriate trigger.

            Let me close with a question.  Have you ever heard these words?  “And you call yourself a Christian?”  Has anyone said that to you or maybe you’ve said it to someone else?  Well, by the grace of God we can be angry - and call ourselves Christian - and good ones at that!  Amen.



[1] Robert L. Short, The Parables of Peanuts, ( New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 194.

[2] Morton T. Kelsey, Caring, (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), 108.

[3] Charles R. Swindoll, Three Steps Foward, Two Steps Back, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson 1980), 166.