Struggling with Anger2
by Michelle Hodges
“Michelle, are you mad at death, or are you mad at God?”
That simple, loaded question stopped my spiraling and rendered me shocked and speechless. That question, asked gently with genuine concern, has dominated my thoughts for three weeks now. I’ve been struggling with anger for a little while now, but the struggle became a little overwhelming during this past year, and the flash point came the morning my friend Lacey passed from this life into eternity.
I can’t really pinpoint an exact moment, but I know I began to experience more feelings of anger around the time my illness became harder to manage. Being angry over being constantly sick, with no explanations or solutions, led to a rollercoaster of guilt and shame. My head knew, knows, that ALL THINGS are for my good. I know that suffering produces endurance. I know there are gifts in the trials. Despite all of the knowledge, I couldn’t get my anger under control. The never ending, “Why?” ran on repeat in my head. The fury from my ever-increasing physical limitations was exhausting.
And then death became the constant conversation. People I know, even a close relation, lost family members to the virus. Emma lost a classmate in a tragic accident. I lost a distant cousin, someone in seemingly perfect health, very suddenly. An acquaintance, a young mother and medical professional, lost her battle with a rare cancer at the age of 36. Then Lacey lost her 4-year battle with glioblastoma a few months before her 40th birthday. Lacey Madden, one of the most inspirational, kingdom-minded people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing, went to her eternal home; and the rage that followed was suffocating.
Anger wasn’t all I felt when Lacey passed. There was joy and sadness and relief and gratitude for her life all at the same time. I was able to make sense of all of those; I was able to put words to those feelings, even though they were all jumbled together. But the anger, the anger was persistent and extreme, and ultimately undefinable. Doubts that I thought I had dealt with years ago began to resurface. Hard questions (that I still don’t have all the answers to) dominated my thoughts. Why does a good God allow this much pain? How can a person who lived every single day for God’s glory be done with her work here on this earth so early in her life? Why do her children have to grow up without the steady presence of her love and wisdom? All of these thoughts rushed out of my chest along with a downpour of tears the day Annie asked me how I was “really” doing. Instead of scolding me or even attempting to placate me, she simply said, almost in a whisper, “Michelle, are you mad at death, or are you mad at God?’
Friends, I must tell you, in that moment, I had no answer. I genuinely did not know where my anger was directed. Truthfully, I think I was mad at both. But I realized fairly quickly I had to figure out the answer. While I stood there in silence, Annie followed up with the words that became my lifeline:
“Death isn’t natural, Michelle. On this side of heaven, death is still the enemy.”
Picture in your mind the exploding head emoji. Shell shocked is the best way I can describe the impact of those two sentences. Annie’s words gave me the boost I needed to not only focus my anger, but to also begin to understand its origin, and when directed accordingly, my anger isn’t sinful.
That evening I picked up my copy of Gentle and Lowly off my nightstand. I had neglected my reading for a few weeks and forgotten where I had left off. The last chapter I had read, right before Lacey passed, was the chapter titled “The Emotional Life of Christ”. In the chapter, Dane Ortlund reveals to us the depth of Christ’s emotions, specifically his compassion and anger, and how they are “unrestrained” in his perfect humanity. Ortlund, with the assistance of B.B. Warfield, walks his readers through Jesus’ reaction to Lazarus’ death. Ortlund begins by telling us:
“…yes, Christ got angry and still gets angry, for he is the perfect human, who loves too much to remain indifferent. And this righteous anger reflects his heart, his tender compassion. But because his deepest heart is tender compassion, he is the quickest to get angry and feels anger most furiously – and all without a hint of sin tainting that anger.” (pg 110)
Ortlund then immediately follows his thoughts with a passage taken from Warfield’s, Person and Work of Christ:
“Inextinguishable fury seizes upon him… It is death that is the object of his wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom he has come into the world to destroy… The raising of Lazarus thus becomes, not an isolated marvel, but… a decisive instance and open symbol of Jesus’ conquest of death and hell.” (pg 111)
Bring those exploding head emojis back to your mind. Two colors of highlighters, multicolored pens, multiple bookmarks, and SEVERAL readings later, I’m finally able to move my anger to an acceptable place. Now I can feel this anger, this anger with death, and acknowledge it instead of feeling ashamed of it. I can experience this emotion without it diminishing the joy of the knowledge of Lacey’s current place in the presence of her Savior. I can’t tell you that my anger issues are completely gone, but I can tell you that I now have a deeper understanding of the true heart of Christ. I have an expanding knowledge of my role as an image bearer. I “think” that I finally believe the author of Hebrews when he tells us, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, without sin.” (4:15) I’ll conclude with Dane Ortlund’s closing sentence, a similar statement of truth that, for me, has provided so much hope these past few weeks:
“Let Christ’s heart for you not only wash you in his compassion but also assure you of his solidarity and rage against all that distresses you, most centrally, death and hell.” (pg 112)