This post original ran June 6, 2015.
NB: This letter is fictional with regard to the particulars, but with regard to the nature of the sins described, it is unfortunately not at all fictional. Consider it a composite portrait, with no particular man in mind. At the same time, if any individual husband recognizes himself in the portrait and humbles himself, I would thank God and say that this was kind of the point.
You were probably expecting this letter, but so there will be no misunderstanding, I still wanted to begin by explaining why I was writing. We have spoken off and on over the years about the problem of anger in your home, and you have consistently said that your wife was simply misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting you. You have described what you do as simply being “firm,” or “stern,” while she has called it anger, sometimes through tears. You have said that your wife must have been affected by feminism or something, and that you were simply trying to exercise a masculine leadership in the home that doesn’t mollycoddle the kids. And because it has always come down to did too/did not, and no external witnesses, the most I could do is exhort you generally.
But having witnessed your outburst at your family last Sunday, I believe I am finally in a position to address the issue with you directly. You were probably expecting to hear from me because of how the outburst started in front of some others at the church picnic, but also, as it happened, I was walking through the parking lot about fifteen minutes later, and though I didn’t hear all of what happened, I know that I heard quite enough. From what I heard, it is manifestly apparent to me that if your wife has been misrepresenting you, it has actually been in the direction of trying to protect your reputation. It is clear to me that everything she has been saying about your anger is true, and then some. The kind of anger on display in what I heard was not a momentary irritation or annoyance, but was rather a manifestation of settled character, and what was manifested there was vile.
And that is why I am writing. This letter is not a substitute for meeting together with me. I simply wanted to describe the situation for you beforehand so that you would have time to reflect, so that our visit afterward can be as fruitful as possible.
Some of what I am going to say will seem hard or harsh to you because for years you have used anger to keep any real criticism far away from you. So while I know it will seem hard, please know that every word here is written with your best interests in mind.
Another way of putting it is that these words will seem hard because they are so late in coming. Angry husbands are a problem to others, to their wives and children particularly. But I want to set everything in its proper context. Angry husbands are a problem to others, but we need to start by remembering that angry husbands have a problem. That problem is that apart from true and genuine repentance they are going to Hell.
“For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col. 3:6–8).
“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:30–31).
The settled habit of mind that I heard on display the other night is utterly inconsistent with inheriting the kingdom of God. The reason is that you are not just dealing with anger, although that is bad enough. When someone gives way to ungodly anger, the sin is destructive and bad. But when it is rationalized, when it is not repented, when the angry person does not humble himself before those he has wounded, sincerely seeking their forgiveness in true humility, the problem is overweening arrogance and pride. The episode of anger is like putting stain on a piece of wood — but refusal to repent in humility is like putting a defiant sealant on it. The pride is the thing that is truly diabolical. And when you have been getting angry for years, as you plainly have, and have never once humbled yourself to your family because of it, and have constantly defended your behavior in repeated conversations with your pastor, then it is apparent that your pride has you by the throat and will not let you go.
In the Colossians passage, it says that the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience. The children of disobedience are identified by their clothing, by what they wear every day. And what they wear every day is bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice, and evil speaking. All of that is plainly characteristic of your heart, your mind, and your mouth, and I need to tell you plainly that you can’t wear that stuff and go to Heaven. And apart from true heartfelt repentance, you are not going to Heaven. The apostle speaks plainly — take those filthy clothes off, and put on Christ.
I used the example of pride as a sealant. The Ephesians passage also speaks of the Holy Spirit as a seal of the day of redemption. Because this is what He is doing it is absolutely necessary for everyone who calls himself a Christians to put away bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these . . . hatred, variance, emulations, wrath . . .envyings . . . and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19–21).
Shall not inherit the kingdom of God. So this is the necessary context for everything I am saying. Your soul is in dire peril. Jesus once said that there is no profit for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul. That being the case, how much more of a bad bargain is it for a man to gain everything he is demanding in his world, in his home, through bluster, browbeating and bullying, and to then lose his own soul right there in his own living room? What comes out of your mouth smells like sulfur and damnation.
Now pride cannot be challenged without excuses and rationalizations coming to mind, so I want to briefly touch on a few that are likely to occur to you.
You may want to justify your outbursts of anger at your family because you think they are only the recipients of your anger, not the cause of it. You may blame your boss, or the long commute, or idiotic co-workers. You think you just come home a little “grumpy” because of these other problems, and you expect (and demand) sympathy from your family. When you don’t get it, you flare up at them, and feel entirely justified. They don’t know how hard you work, they don’t know the pressure, they ought to be more understanding. But the people you have to deal with at work display only a fraction of your irrational cruelties. You have scalded your family countless times, and are then “honestly” puzzled by how cautious they are around you.
You might think that your anger episodes are perhaps a “problem,” to be sure, now that I mention it, and that you do need to work on it sometime. But your silences are likely as much trouble as your outbursts. Your family is being forced by you to live on the slopes of a volcano, and it doesn’t have to be erupting all the time for them to be in a state of fear all the time. To change the metaphor, when you blow up you leave a crater that is fifty feet across, lip to lip, and then you make some symbolic pacific gesture (which is very non-verbal) like throwing an extra carton of ice cream into the shopping basket “for the kids.” This is the equivalent of throwing a couple of spadefuls of dirt at this yawning, smoking crater . . . and even then you miss the crater. Your episodes of anger are not a periodic problem; they are a manifestation of the fact that you are an angry man all the time, and your family is forced to treat your anger as a constant. They treat it as a constant because they are not fools — it is a constant. You are a constant. The problem is not what you occasionally do. The problem is what you are, and you successfully communicate what you are even when you are sitting on the couch saying nothing. You are either exploding like a bomb, or ticking ominously like a bomb. The only way for your family to be restored is for you to humble yourself and repent.
And last, there is a reason why angry men often seek out conservative churches. You want to be able reject “softness,” and you hate the unsound doctrine of “squishy” pop evangelicalism. When you first came to our church, you explicitly told me that you were looking for a church with “standards,” a church that was willing to resist the effeminacy of our age. You were attracted to the fact that we still practice church discipline. As I recall, your first Sunday with us happened to be that day we were disciplining a woman for deserting her husband for another man. You commended me, as I recall, and said that it was refreshing to encounter a church with some discipline. Well, we do practice discipline, but you need to know we discipline for fits of rage, and not just for adultery. We discipline husbands, not just wives.
And speaking of our effeminate age, when it comes to standards, you need to know that angry, bitter, resentful husbands in conservative churches are quite adept at giving liberals one of the few reasonable points they have. That reasonable point is that conservative standards are often abused by hypocrites in order to provide a scriptural veneer for old-fashioned bullying. On this matter, you are not with us — you are working for the other side, confirming as many of their caricatures as you can.
As I said at the beginning, I know that this will be taken by you, at least initially, as sharp, hard, and harsh. And so it is — but you should think of it as a surgeon’s knife. Please know that we love you, and we want you to be free. Not only do we want you to be free, but we want your family to be delivered. You were given to them so that your hardness could be a shield for them. You are called to be hard for them, not hard on them.
Let’s set up a time to talk.