Aggression occupies a great role in the human history. The history of our species consists of endless wars, fights, and strife. But what exactly is aggression and where does it come from?
Holy Fathers unanimously assert that passion, corruption, and mortality entered human nature with the Fall. They are called “the coats of skins” in the Bible, which God gave to the fallen human couple. Man has become like an inane animal, or, as the Church tradition says, he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly (Psalm 49:13).
The physical nature of man estranged from God became similar to that of any living being on our planet. Unfortunately, a person in this fallen state can be more dangerous for his fellow human beings than any beast: the human mind, damaged by sin, is capable of the most monstrous and insane perversions of the acceptable, wherein the boundaries of someone else’s living space are violated not by chance, but quite deliberately and openly. Then, it is the natural ability to repel such an attack that comes to the aid of the attacked person.
Aggression is a tool to protect our boundaries, which was given to man by God along with those very “coats of skins” when he likened himself to a beast through sin. But Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth. He took up the same “coat of skin”, not as a punishment for sin like all other people, but out of love and compassion for us. This begs the logical question: Was anger one of the human attributes that the God-man acquired in incarnation?
The Gospel gives a pretty clear answer: Yes, it was. There are plenty of examples of this in the Gospel text, the most striking one being the eviction of traders from the Temple, where Jesus went from angry glances and words to direct action. It is very important to understand exactly what the Lord’s wrath was directed at and which boundaries He defended. According to the general opinion of the Holy Fathers, the wrath of Jesus Christ in the Gospel account was always directed at the sin committed by people. It wasn’t just any sin, but only the sin that the Jewish people’s teachers did under the guise of righteousness. The only way that Jesus showed his aggression in the Gospel was to defend the limits of true righteousness and the core values of the Law, namely the love of God and neighbor.
From the viewpoint of psychology, some aggression is present in almost any form of behavior related to our self-presentation into the outside world. Depending on the circumstances, such non-destructive behavioral aggression has many names – vigor, pressure, determination, courage, boldness. All these forms of aggression are absolutely normal, socially acceptable and even necessary for a healthy and productive life of each person and society as a whole. They have nothing to do with domestic violence, fights, boorishness, and other destructive actions that make our lives a nightmare.
However, if a person loses the capacity for these healthy forms of aggression, he or she can only be pitied. Such a person either cannot establish the most elementary contact with others or it costs him or her a lot of painful efforts. Asking the boss for a pay raise, telling a neighbor to stop smoking in the stairwell, saying a toast at a friendly party, asking a girl out on a date – all this becomes an insurmountable problem. In fact, their anger doesn’t fade away because it is an integral part of our human nature. It’s just that where it doesn’t find a natural way out in everyday interactions with other people, it has to look for workarounds, and there are usually two of these: to redirect anger at a substitute safe object or to revert it back at the person. In the first case, a person who is unable to respond firmly to a boss comes home and ends up shouting at his wife and children. In the second case, a person starts pestering himself with endless self-accusations and suffers from a feeling of worthlessness and inadequacy. You can easily guess that both options do not enhance one’s mental and physical health. These processes may also assume a specific religious dimension in believers. For example, a person may convince himself that his indecision is merely the fulfillment of the Gospel commandments, even though Christian meekness is not about weakness or being unable to fight back.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord did not address the impotent melancholics. Instead, He called upon people who were strong, passionate and prone to exceeding the limits of aggression allowed in society. The Gospel meekness, which Christ calls for, is not powerlessness, but rather a tremendous force that can contain itself where needed for higher purposes. Turned over tables of money changers and dispersed sacrificial oxen and sheep are the best proof that there is always the spiritual strength of the champion of righteousness behind Jesus’s meekness. The words about turning the other cheek are not an excuse for inner weakness and inability to fight back. Jesus Himself, when a servant punched him during his interrogation in the high priest’s court, did not turn the other cheek, though he was ready to endure all the anguish and humiliation. Rather, He demanded an explanation from the bellicose servant, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?” (John 18:23)
It turns out that the real Christian attitude towards the person who insulted you can sometimes mean just that demanding the answer – why are you doing this to me? It often happens that it is not the silent consent to violence and injustice that is done to a Christian that is the fulfillment of the commandment of love for one’s neighbor, but rather a gentle but firm protest for the sake of the offender’s edification.
Man has a natural proclivity for anger and aggressive behavior, which God Himself gave him. Like all other natural properties of man, it is neither good nor bad. It is our free will that can make it either a tool to fulfill the Gospel commandments or a tool to break them. When we suddenly feel that indignation and anger escape the control of our will and intellect, it is a sure sign that we are crossing the line. Even when our anger fails to restore the violated justice, we should also reflect on whether we deal with it properly. The balance between these two extremes is the healthy use of God’s gift, which people so often misuse.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds