Beneath overt anger is emotional pain and distress. Similar to the roots of a tree that feed the vital branches above ground, so there are four types of deeper emotions that stimulate angry actions. In the previous blogs, I discussed the first three roots including hurt, helplessness, and anxiety about losing something important. The fourth emotionally distressing root is guilt.
A thirteen year old girl admires a piece of her mother’s jewelry. She steals it from mother’s bureau and takes it to school. After several days, Mother notices it is missing and questions her daughter. The daughter flatly denies taking it and acts wounded that Mother doubts her sincerity. A few days later, Mother checks the girl’s cell phone text messages and observes several comments from peers about the “cool” jewelry she was wearing at school. Mother confronts her daughter with the convincing evidence. The girl is “busted” with no alibi. She explodes in rage yelling at Mother about violating her privacy by looking at the text messages. Daughter curses and runs to her bedroom, slamming the door with vehemence.
Guilt is painful when sin is exposed. It is easier to manifest anger than feel the discomfort of getting caught. Sometimes, abrupt angry reactions are triggered by such immediate convicting encounters. For example, I recall my anger when stopped by police for driving over the speed limit in a small town. I pounded the steering wheel and exclaimed that it was stupid to have a 25 mph zone at the edge of town.
On other occasions, we may feel prolonged guilt which remains unconfessed and our hostilities subtly ooze out unwittingly. Unrecognized guilt functions like resentment which corrodes our conscience and is displaced onto others unconsciously.
We see the prototype of our natural response to guilt in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Both persons blamed someone else for their wrong actions. Sometimes our anger and accusing others is primarily fed by guilt and refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing. We would be wise to apply the wisdom from the Psalms.
What happiness for those whose guilt has been forgiven! What joys when sins are covered over! What relief for those who have confessed their sins and God has cleared their record. There was a time when I wouldn’t admit what a sinner I was. But my dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration. All day and all night your hand was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, ‘I will confess them to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. (Psalm 32:1-5, The Living Bible)