In March 1979, a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor took place on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. Damage from the event was so significant that the cleanup effort that began in August of that year was not finalized until December 1993. Over 14 years and about one billion dollars were spent before the response was concluded.
An investigation of the catastrophe revealed some interesting facts. While the declaration of emergency was made at 7:00 a.m., the actual cause began eleven hours earlier. A routine blockage in the cooling system was identified at that time and addressed, but not fully resolved. By 4:00 a.m. the next morning a pump shut down, causing a series of additional system failures. Of note were two blocked valves that prevented the reactor from cooling properly. The limited amount of time to address the valve problem was the difference between a disaster averted and a nuclear meltdown—except no one knew about them. One of the valve warning lights was covered by a maintenance tag and, due to poor design, the other never lit up, leading operators to believe they were working properly when they were not. The inability to identify the warning signal of a correctable problem led to a nuclear meltdown.
Consider the correlation between this and the meltdown of a person that gives full vent to his anger. The first observation is the significant damage done by an angry person. According to Proverbs 29:22 this kind of person is the cause of a lot of sin. “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” This is evident in the story of Cain and Abel. When God had regard for Abel’s offering and not for Cain’s, Genesis 4 describes what happened next. “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” “And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.” What started as anger led to consequences that neither 14 years nor one billion dollars could reverse—the murder of his brother.
The second observation is that a failure to notice and address warning signs increases the likelihood of a catastrophic result. On Three Mile Island a routine, nighttime problem ended in disaster the next day when left unresolved. Ephesians 4:26–27 reads, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” A failure to see and attend to anger issues in a timely manner is to open the door to the Adversary. Could there be anything more hazardous to a relationship?
An angry person’s control tactic is to lash out at others, but God’s Word instructs the Christian to conduct himself in exactly the opposite way. Here are several contrasts that make the point clear.
The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. (Prov. 12:16)
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful (1 Cor. 13:4–5)
The contrast in the descriptions is striking! An angry person is annoyed at once and everyone knows it, but the wise person overlooks an actual offense. To be slow to anger is to disregard an actual offense. The angry person insists on his way, but the one that loves another is patient and does not insist on his way. Central to the contrast is control. In summary, the angry person demands his rights while the prudent person with good sense demonstrates love when he ignores insults, overlooks offenses and does not insist on his own way.
When you experience conflict in a relationship do find that you demand or choose to overlook? If you recognize that you spend entirely too much time in the demand end of that spectrum, then hear this—you can overcome it! The nine fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 describe what is produced by the Christian that seeks to honor God. All of them are consistent with not demanding—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If you have been a “demander,” then meditate on the promise in verse 24 that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
You, Christian, can choose not to exercise the passion inside that demands its way (even when you have been legitimately wronged). Ask God to help you pin those evil, demander passions to the cross and to help you become an overlooker that averts disaster and produces the God-glorifying and relationship-building fruit of the Spirit.