By Sara Mannen
“Are you angry?” he asked.
“Extremely,” I responded.
This interaction took place while attending my first evangelical-Buddhist dialogue at Multnomah Seminary, and proved to be a turning point in my journey to forgiveness.
For the better part of my first year in seminary, I spent my time fantasizing about crafting theological hand grenades that I could hurl at those who had deeply hurt and traumatized my family. In my imagined form of revenge I would drop theological truth bombs that would leave my opponents speechless, and I would walk away in righteous vindication. After my 12 year wait to return to school, this was not how I imagined using my seminary education. Nor did I want to continue this lack of forgiveness. I knew I was stuck and wanted to forgive, but felt utterly incapable in the face of trauma.
Over the years of ministry in the church, I learned the implicit lesson that the expressions of anger, frustration, and grief were not appropriate or wanted. On more than one occasion when I was visibly upset, I received the classic response, “You just need to trust God.” My Buddhist friend asked me a direct question and gave me the precious gift of space and freedom to be angry. I must admit my ignorance and preconception of Buddhists as ever calm and always peaceful left me quite shocked when he affirmed my anger as positive and necessary. He further explained the Buddhist principle of co-emergent wisdom which teaches that one must embrace the chaos and intense emotions of life because from them, or through them, stem deeper understanding and sanity. Chaos and confusion interpenetrate sanity and realization.
In my Christian perspective, anger can be a gift from God as it reveals that which is not right, such as injustice or sin. God displays anger (Ps 7:11, Dt 6:15) and Jesus angrily cleared the temple (Jn 2:13-18). Fallen man easily distorts anger, and it can be a great evil (James 1:19-20, Pr 29:11). However, Ephesians 4:26 assumes that a Christian will experience anger. The typical Christian response of sweeping anger under the rug does not allow one to deal with the root cause of the anger.
Until we allow ourselves the freedom to be angry, we will never heal or forgive.
Anger can become a source of healing when we willingly examine the damaged part of the soul to which it serves as a pointer. To clarify, by freedom to be angry, I am not suggesting one have an all-out fit of rage; rather I mean an honest evaluation of one’s emotions between oneself, God, and possibly a trusted confidant.
My perspective on my situation and rage started to change after the evangelical-Buddhist dialogues. Before the dialogue, I was treating my anger as something passive. This situation is making me angry. As long as my situation remained, I believed I had no control over my response and was incapable of forgiveness. I assumed time would anesthetize my wounds enough that my anger would become a distant memory. However, this is not biblical forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the intentional relinquishing of one’s right to anger and vengeance. The Christian belief in God’s redemptive healing and forgiveness was accomplished through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. God’s triumph in Christ came only through pain and suffering. The forgiveness I experience in Christ cost God. I started to recognize the anger was mine. I am angry about this situation. Once I took responsibility for my reaction to being hurt, then I was able to take the first step towards forgiveness through this prayer, “Father, I am so angry right now. I do not want to be anymore.” I was not capable of forgiving before this realization because I did not have anything to release. My focus was on the situation that caused my trauma, not on my response to it. What I meant by forgiveness before this point was moving on with my life, not wrestling with my reaction and what it costs to give up my rights in the face of injustice.
Through claiming the anger as mine, the hard work of examining my heart began. I could ask myself, why am I responding to this situation with such rage? I discovered many right motives, such as love for my family and justice. However, once I dug deeper, I encountered the dark corners of my heart that revealed my wrong motives and desires. Anger is a gift.
I am so thankful God placed me in a community where my understanding of the Christian faith was further clarified, deepened, and sharpened. It was the explanation of co-emergent wisdom and space to emote that enabled me to view my incessant anger as a gift necessary for my growth and healing in Christ. Once I acknowledged the pain underlying my anger then God’s healing grace began to work on my wounded heart.
The next step in my journey to forgiveness started as I examined my own heart. I needed to humanize myself as well as those I needed to forgive.
Sara Mannen spends her time caring for her two precocious daughters and husband while attending seminary and working. Professionally, she has worked in banking for 17 years. Sara’s passion is for discipling and teaching the youth in her church where her love for teaching the Bible and theology are utilized. She graduated from Multnomah University where she majored in Bible and Theology and Youth Ministry.
 For an extended discussion of Buddhist principles see Stephen Batchelor, Living with the Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2004).