Lenten Classics – Anger and the Wounded Ego


During each week of Lent this year, we will be posting an excerpt from a classic writing on Christian spirituality, followed by some questions for personal reflection.

Today’s post is taken from a modern classic titled The Divine Conspiracy – Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, written in 1997 by Dallas Willard. Willard, who died in 2013, was a professor of philosophy at UCLA and a highly regarded Christian speaker and author. The selection below is an exploration of Jesus’ teaching on anger in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21-22.

Dallas Willard:

We can and usually do choose or will to be angry. Anger first arises spontaneously. But we can actively receive it and decide to indulge it, and we usually do. We may even become an angry person, and any incident can evoke from us a torrent of rage that is kept in constant readiness.

This is actually the case with those who are caught up in the current epidemic of ‘road rage.’ The explosion of anger never simply comes from the incident. Most people carry a supply of anger around with them….

But why, one might ask, would people embrace anger and indulge it? Why would they, as they do so often, bloat their bodies with anger or wear it like a badge of honor while it radiates real and potential harm, not only to its proper object, the one who thwarted their will in the first place, but to others standing by – often with deadly effects on their own life and health and happiness? It is well established today that many people are killed by their own anger. Untold many others die of secondhand anger, like secondhand smoke. In Los Angeles and other cities, hardly a week goes by without the death of a child from bullets fired at others in anger.

The answer to the question of why people embrace anger and cultivate it is one we must not miss if we are to understand the ways of the human heart. Anger indulged, instead of simply waved off, always has in it an element of self-righteousness and vanity. Find a person who has embraced anger, and you will find a person with a wounded ego.

The importance of the self, and the real or imaginary wound done to it is blown out of all proportion by those who indulge anger. Then anger can become anything from a low-burning resentment to a holy crusade to inflict harm on the one who has thwarted … my wishes or bruised my sense of propriety….

Only this element of self-righteousness can support me as I retain my anger … or allow its intensity to heat to the point of totally senseless rage. To rage on I must regard myself as mistreated or as engaged in the rectification of an unbearable wrong, which I all to easily do.

Anger embraced is, accordingly, inherently disintegrative of human personality and life. It does not have to be specifically ‘acted out’ to poison the world. Because of what it is, and the way it seizes upon the body and its environment just by being there, it cannot be hidden. All our mental and emotional resources are marshaled to nurture and tend the anger, and our body throbs with it. Energy is dedicated to keeping anger alive: we constantly remind ourselves of how wrongly we have been treated. And when it is allowed to govern our actions, of course, its evil is quickly multiplied in heart-rending consequences and in the replication of anger and rage in the hearts and bodies of everyone it touches.

Personal reflection:

  • To what extent do you think you are choosing to nurture anger within yourself?
  • What is the connection between our anger and our sense of self-importance?
  • Close your eyes and imagine what a life free from anger would look like. What are you imagining? What would you like to say to God right now?