Josh Byers


Writing about books, culture, ministry, design and my family

Idolatry and Anger Management

Its really not a big surprise this realization that I'm an idolator but rather what I've come to idolize. I'm a father of two awesome kids. They are an incredible gift and I'm reminded every day to cherish life through their wonder, innocence, questions and love.

I love them to death and can't imagine life without them and yet that I fear is the problem. Because even in my desperate love for them I find myself angry at them more often than I want to admit.

I'm a fairly laid back person and as I've examined my life the only times I get worked up to a vocal level is when I'm playing and watching sports or when my kids do something I don't approve of. I've noticed recently that it doesn't take much for me to get angry with them. One minute we'll be playing and having fun and the next second I'll be yelling because one of them didn't obey what I said right away. It frightens me sometimes to hear myself and I'm frightened by the image that I know I'm implanting within them.

Most people would say that I need to "manage my anger." I need to count to ten, walk away, take an anger management class or do something to change my behavior. But I believe it goes much deeper than that.

I want more than anything for my kids to love me. I want them to look back on their childhood and believe they had the best dad in the world. I want them to run to me. I want them to always look to me, to need me, to respect me. This is the desire of my heart.

And while all of these are good things, I've turned them into idols.

Abraham saved from his Idolatry 

This all became crystal clear to me as I read through Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods. In the first chapter he recounts the story of Abraham and how God gave him the ultimate desire of his heart - a son. Most people are familiar with the story and know that when Abraham's son Isaac reached a certain age God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, to give him up and back to God.

As a father the idea of this makes me sick and I could never imagine being asked to do this let alone going through with it. The moral ideas presented actually are a big stumbling block to a lot of people and is one of the reasons skeptics say they could never believe in or follow the God of Christianity.

But as Keller points out it was not unloving for God to ask Abraham to do this. I know, it sounds absolutely crazy but when you read and think all the way through it makes perfect sense.

One of the reasons it was not irrational for Abraham to participate was because in that culture the life of firstborn son belonged to God. The firstborn represented the family and because of the sinfulness of mankind and specifically the family, the life of the firstborn son was considered forfeit. God had a right to the life of every family because of their sinfulness. Because God is holy sin cannot be tolerated in his presence and if He is to have a relationship with human beings there has to be some form of atonement for the sin. This was be realized in the sacrifice of Abraham's firstborn son. Because he represented the family his death would cover their sins.

So how could Abraham do this? As Abraham walked his son up that mountain he believed that God was holy and that he owed Him a sacrifice but he also believed in God's grace and believed that God would provide a way for his son to live. This is why in Genesis 22:5 he told his servants that "we will come back to you." And in this Keller says:

Abraham was not just exercising blind faith. He was not saying, "This is crazy, this is murder, but I'm going to do it anyway." Instead he was saying, "I know God is both holy and gracious. I don't know how He is going to be both but I know He will."

If he had not believed he was in debt to a holy God, he would have been too angry to go. But if he had also not believed that God was a God of grace, he would have been too crushed and hopeless to go.

The story continues with God stopping Abraham from sacrificing his son and God providing a ram in his place.

As Abraham walked back down that mountain with his son he understood that God had been testing his love and Abraham was able to see that he treasured God more than his firstborn son.

If God had not stepped into Abraham’s life and had him go through this very difficult time Abraham would have most likely ended up idolizing his son and would have ultimately ended up destroying his life because of his idolatry.

Many years later God had his own Son walk up these same mountains and sacrifice his own life as a substitute for the sins of every family in the world.

When God saw Abraham’s sacrifice He said “ love me because you been willing to give me the most precious thing in your life.” But how much more was God’s love to us when He gave us his Son Jesus?

When I look at the cross and see what God did for me and all that He gave me I am in need of nothing else. I need Jesus. I need the cross. I need nothing else.

my Anger is Because of my Idolatry 

So what does this have to do with idolizing my kids and managing my anger?

I’m realizing that I treasure their response to me more than anything. If they do not respect me and talk to me in a honoring way I feel that I am not getting what I deserve.

This is pride taking over my heart. I feel I’m entitled to this and if I don’t get it my life is not complete.

When I get angry, I’m not really angry with my kids, I’m angry at the love I have not received. Its my selfishness that is driving my response.

I need to realize all the love I need has been provided by Jesus at the cross. When I understand this I don’t need the love of my kids and I can respond to them with love and correction rather than selfishness and anger.