The ‘Silent’ Killer

What causes quarrels, and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.

James 4:1-2 ESV

After the waves of emotion that rise in us and cause us to say and do things we regret pass, we are often left with a mess. Our spouse is most likely hurting because of our angry words and actions, our children may be afraid if they heard or witnessed our wrath, and we may have no idea how to fix what we have so foolishly broken. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid the mess altogether by not lashing out in anger?

If our goal is to rein in our temper and learn how to deal with moments of genuine anger, we must first understand the causes of these powerful emotions. The Bible teaches us that anger is the emotional response we often choose when reality does not align with our desires. We get angry when our spouse does not do or say what we want. We lash out when our plan for the day is upset. We speak harshly when we are disappointed that things aren’t going our way. Our angry and harsh words often follow a pattern. When we desire after something for a long time and never seemingly get what we want, our anger will come out again and again, and may even become habitual. This kind of repetitive, unceasing anger will eventually turn to bitterness, then finally, apathy. As we descend deeper into our unquenched sinful desire, our anger can have the effect of distancing us from God and our spouse. And we justify this in our heart and mind because if God and our spouse really loved us, they would give us what we so desperately desire. Clearly, such thinking is foolish.

When the hot anger transforms into a cold apathy, we no longer shout or argue. Instead, we aim a weapon at our spouse that the Bible equates with murderthat weapon is silence. Our human mind reads that and thinks it to be somewhat hyperbolic. But if we prayerfully consider that God sees all sin as being the same, then we cannot allow ourselves to ‘murder’ our spouse with silence. You see, physical murder says, “I do not like you. Therefore, I am going to make sure you do not exist by killing you.” The silent treatment says, “I do not like you. Therefore, I am going to treat you as though you do not exist by not speaking to you.”

The silent treatment is not about an inability to communicate, but a voluntary choice to not speak to someone. It is the sanitized version of distancing yourself from another person. Though the consequences are radically different, you can accomplish the desired virtual erasure of an individual from your life through the silent treatment. No matter how you look at it, silence is a sin.

So what should we do? How can we see our anger for what it is, and then make a conscious choice to deal with it in a God-honoring way that does not harm others?

An excellent place to start is on your knees alone with God. By placing your anger before the throne of God, and asking His Holy Spirit to transform your anger and release you from its grasp, you can free yourself from a dangerous emotion and avoid a potentially sinful and messy situation.

For those of us that struggle with chronic anger issues, we need to lean in more and ask ourselves some challenging but essential questions. The following suggested questions will help you reflect on your motives, consider how your words and actions affect others, and learn what God has to say on the subject.

  • What are you trying to achieve, accomplish, or prove with the silent treatment?
  • What are you trying to protect yourself from by choosing silence? Is this a defensive tactic?
  • What are you trying to control when you use the silent treatment?
  • What are you afraid of by engaging the person in conversation?
  • What is it that makes you so angry?
  • How does God treat you when you sin? (See John 3:16; 5:8)
  • How does your silent treatment affect your relationship with God? (See 1 Pet. 3:7)
  • Do you feel comfortable admitting your sins to God and others? (See 1 John 1:7-10)
  • Which is the more significant problem: your sin against God or what someone has done to you?
  • Are you aware of how this sin affects your family?
  • Are there any other people in your life you treat this way?
  • How does it make you feel when you are ignored and alienated?
  • Do you have anyone holding you accountable for this sin?
  • Will you change now? Will you stop doing this?

Anger is a normal and sometimes useful emotion. But when it is the overflow of a heart gripped by unfulfilled desires, disappointment, bitterness, and unforgiveness, we must see it the way God sees it—only as sinful behavior. Only the Holy Spirit can empower us to recognize our anger when it flares up and cause us to respond in a God-honoring way.

>< Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the LORD. ><

Some content in this post was excerpted from Silent Treatment: The Sanitized Version of Murder by Rick Thomas.

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