God Running is a place for anyone who wants to love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we looked at the wrathful crowd in Corinth who beat Sosthenes, and we also looked at the wrath of Cain. (If you’re interested you can read more here: The Wrath in Corinth (and the Wrath of Cain)–Acts 18:12-17.)
Today I want to share some more about anger. “Kurt,” you might be saying to yourself right now, “you seem to write about anger a fair bit. Why is that?”
That’s a great question and there are a couple of reasons. When I did the deep dive into the life of Jesus I came out the other end with some new (new to me at least) ideas about what it means to be a Jesus follower. One of those realizations was what Jesus and his earliest followers actually taught about anger. It was different from what I had heard before. And, I also came to the realization that my frustration tolerance or threshold is way lower than it ought to be. I needed to become a more forgiving person, with a softer heart, a less angry person. So in an effort to follow Jesus more closely, I’m trying to forsake anger to the greatest degree that I can.
A second reason I write about anger is because of the times we live in. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself. Since the recent COVID pandemic, the world has become a more angry place. So it makes sense to me to share about anger. Today I want to talk about how to handle it in a healthy way.
But first let’s talk about happiness.
Happiness is Love: Full Stop
“Happiness is love: full stop.” Those aren’t my words. Those are the words of George Vaillant, a Harvard Medical School Professor. For thirty years Vaillant was the director of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development, also known as the Grant study. It’s a longitudinal study that began in 1938. The study included 724 men. Of those 268 were Harvard-educated, and 456 were non-delinquent, low socio-economic class, inner-city youths who grew up in Boston. Longitudinal studies are notoriously challenging logistically. Most end within ten years because whoever’s in charge loses interest or there’s a loss of funding. Somehow this study continued on. The director baton has been passed from one director to another. George Vaillant was the third. Robert Waldinger is the fourth and current director. The study was and continues to be very thorough. The subjects’ medical records are examined regularly, they receive brain scans, fill out questionnaires, participate in in-person interviews in their living rooms, have conversations with their wives about their deepest concerns videoed, and their blood is even analyzed. This is a quote about love from Vaillant based on what he’s learned from the Grant study:
Modern ethology and neuroscience make clear that all mammals are hard-wired for love. Of all the fauna on earth, however, Homo sapiens is the most radically dependent on love. Thus, ethologist Konrad Lorenz called love “the most wonderful product of ten million years of evolution”; psychoanalyst Erich Fromm wrote, “without love humanity could not exist even for a day”; and evangelist St. Paul concluded, “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”Vaillant
Vaillant and his successor Waldinger have both been saying for some time now, that the key to happiness is warm affectionate relationships. Good relationships with the people around you was even the best predictor of physical health and longevity including a prolonging of brain function into old age.
This shouldn’t be a surprise for you, a Jesus follower. We see this idea communicated over and over again from Jesus, and from his earliest disciples too.
And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Jesus Christ, Matthew 22:35-40
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”Jesus Christ, John 13:34-35
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:43-44
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”Jesus Christ, John 15:10-11
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.1 Peter 4:8
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.1 John 4:7-8
Let all that you do be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:14
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:1-7
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13
So the path to happiness is through love. Loving, warm, affectionate relationships .
So what does that have to do with venting anger?
The Problem with Venting Anger
So there’s been this pervasive idea for a long time now that venting our anger is healthy. After all, bottling it up will only result in us exploding eventually — that’s been the thinking from some. But is that how it really works? And what is our working definition of venting anger and frustration anyway?
If our definition of venting frustration and anger is to go out to the backyard and pound nails on a carpentry project, or to hit the gym, or mow the lawn, or whack golf balls, or go for a run, or to go for a walk, well then yes, venting is healthy. I would even say that type of venting is necessary.
But if our definition of venting is to unload our frustration and anger to another person, it turns out, the net result is a negative. Because emotions are contagious. And those negative complaining frustrated angry emotions, whether we realize it or not, are transferred to whoever’s within earshot.
So the person listening is receiving emotion and energy that’s contrary to what we just read in 1 Corinthians 13.
A little of that kind of venting goes a long way. Any more than a small amount begins to damage the relationship, or, if the listener is enthusiastic and begins to contribute toward the negativity, the relationship can become an unhealthy one. Now we have two angry people instead of one.
As we see in the Bible, and as we saw from the directors of the Harvard longitudinal study, it’s loving warm affectionate relationships that make us happy. Venting our anger onto another person takes away from love and warmth and affection.
My observation has been that venting anger temporarily damages a relationship at best. And I’ve seen it kill relationships altogether at worst.
So yes, in the short term, venting by sharing our anger and frustration with another person might make you and I feel better. In the short term.
But in the long term you’ll experience a net loss.
The good news is, love is contagious too.
“Father, fill us with the love of Jesus for You, for each other, and for others. Bless us with the great gift of soft tender hearts toward you and toward each other and toward others. Fill us with Jesus and make me and the dear person reading this right now a person who spreads love and warmth and affection. Bless us with loving warm affectionate relationships. Help us to follow Jesus well.
“In Jesus name we ask.
George E. Vaillant, M.D., Happiness is Love: Full Stop
Joshua Wolf Shenk, What Makes Us Happy, The Atlantic, June, 2009
Robert Waldinger, TED Talk What Makes a Good Life?, November, 2015
Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP, and James Pawelski, Ph.D., Why Venting May Not Actually Be Good for You, Psychology Today, October, 2023
Available on Amazon! Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus) Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others. Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too. A life of loving like Jesus. (Kindle, hardcover, and paperback now available on Amazon.)