When Your Preferred Reality Clashes with Your Fallen Reality

Anger brings with it a visceral internal unsettledness, energy, and volatility that drives your actions. You cannot leave it alone because the natural processing of righteous anger through “self” will use this energy for selfish purposes, resulting in sinful anger (James 4:3).

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Consequently, Christians have an awkward relationship with anger. Some falsely believe anger should not be part of the Christian life. However, when you remember sin’s destruction of the original shalom of creation, anger should be the most felt and universal emotion of humanity (Ephesians 4:26).

In the first chapter, you learned about three friends who are struggling with their fallen lives. In various ways, evil has entered into their marriages, families, careers, the most personal areas of life. Despite knowing Christ, their current relationship with Him is weak and lacking the strength to overcome this evil rightly.

They became angry at their circumstances. As image bearers of God, their conscience’s recognized evil’s presence with fallen life, and they installed a desire, a longing for justice.

Sin is a disruption of created harmony and then resistance to the divine restoration of that harmony (Isaiah 64:7). – Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

In fact, Christians should be the angriest people around. The gift of spiritual discernment (1 Co 2:12-13) opens our eyes to see the great heights from which we have fallen and provides the most unobstructed view that things are not the way they are supposed to be. The echo of creation provides a longing, in all of us, for things to be made right.

Indwelling anger is inherent to living in the fallen world, and a proper Christian response to evil is one where righteous indignation does not detract from God’s glory.

But in the case of our friends, their anger at evil has turned sinful, further degenerating into poor spiritual health and sinful aberrations in their dealings. They have become sinning victims.

  • Discouraged by her loveless marriage, Sue has yielded to the temptation of adultery.
  • Mitch’s floundering career, coupled with family dysfunction at home has him escaping to pornography.
  • Alice’s struggle with understanding the past sexual abuse under a loving God has her depressed and abusing alcohol.

Restoration will only occur on a path traveled with an abiding, death-to-self humility that leads to a redemptive, gospel-anchored treatment of anger

Anger’s Origin

In an article reflecting on the pitiful legacy of Hugh Hefner, Jon Bloom writes, “The fallen human nature, unhinged from God’s reality, seeks to construct its own preferred reality.”

This observation implies an unwillingness or inability for humankind to accept the actual reality of life; that is the “fallen reality.” The indwelling torments of shame, fear, and guilt within your soul leave you restless and craving more than this life is capable of providing.

The “preferred reality” represents the desires of your heart; what you want and expect out of life. It’s not limited to the dream life scenario where you become “rich and famous;” it also encompasses your personal short and long-term goals.

Most of these goals are honorable, and planning is wise (Proverbs 21:5), but they constitute a projected reality, which may be at odds with the dual biblical truths of humility and death-to-self. They are the internal imprints of your pre-fallen life; they are your thoughts on how life should work (Genesis 2:28).

Fallen Reality: the actual state of your life as a result of your in-Adam disconnection from God, and all the other consequences of sin. Many colors paint this canvas, from the subtle annoyances of life to the vast array of human miseries, and finally to the cold, stark shades of evil from within and without.

Sin corrupts your thoughts, emotions, intentions, motives, speech, and dispositions; it can shatter all the little bones of your character.

We must acknowledge that this dynamic is a common-to-humanity issue. As a Christian, it is easy for me to look down on Hugh Hefner’s preferred reality and condone its evil roots and destructive results. But when I turn to examine my own inner-thought life, I find the same dynamic at work; I too nurture a “preferred reality.”

The hope of the preferred reality is so enticing, and the “fallen reality” is so painful that it compels you to set your gaze on the preferred reality while blocking out the raw authenticity of real life.

The Great Conflict in Life

Life between these two realities pulls you between two magnetic poles, inducing a force that drives and tempts you to gravitate toward the preferred reality. The inability to obtain your self-appointed desires, goals, and preferences is the dynamic that births anger, and if not handled properly, can lead to a loss of humility, precipitating a proliferation of struggles and sins. The mind-map below displays the sequence of events.

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To illustrate, we will examine Sue’s marriage.

Initially, a season of nuptial blessing was present when she and her husband’s preferred realities harmonized. Marriage brought them across the threshold, providing relational stability, physical intimacy, and a foundation for raising children. The honeymoon season cliche accurately captures the mood of this season.

But as new seasons emerged, Sue found she and her husband’s preferred realities diverging; she felt unloved, and he felt disrespected. Fallen reality entered creating tension, and disharmony in their hearts.

With “self” in control, the anger over relationship discord was improperly handled, triggered or instigated by a combination of unbelief, ignorance, and unwatchfulness. Sue and her husband lost their humility, and the marriage reaped the consequences of self-will, self-confidence, and self-effort.

The mind-map captures a few of the spiritual manifestations of living for self. It will look different for different individuals, for example, boasting vs. self-pity, but the roots are the same. For Sue, her self-will has led to a weak prayer life and self-pity. Out of self-confidence, she fiercely defended her view of the marriage, and self-effort has led her to seek male attention outside of her marriage.

The marriage dynamic transitioned through various stages from communication difficulties to a loss of affection, and finally to a hard-hearted pursuit of preferred independent realities.

Unresolved, sinful anger became the primary descriptor of the relationship. The “heart wants what the heart wants,” and when reality falls short, anger becomes a welcome ally. So here we see how “self” directed the energy of anger into sinful anger to serve self.

Sinful anger isn’t limited to the “pressure-cooker” type of anger; it takes many subtle forms, such as self-pity, bitterness, cynicism, and apathy. Often these manifestations are misdiagnosed.

A Hidden Danger

The presence of sinful anger provides another stumbling block and gives the enemy an advantage in the ongoing spiritual battle and promotion of self (Galatians 5:16-17). Sinful anger, once present, can even provide a foothold for some demonic influence in our lives (Ephesians 4:26).

Wrongful anger apparently can give an opportunity for the devil (or demons) to exert some kind of negative influence in our lives—perhaps by attacking us through our emotions and perhaps by increasing the wrongful anger that we already feel against others – Wayne Grudem

Additionally, sinful anger often evolves into the sins of lust (porn and adultery), escapism (alcohol and drug abuse), or turned inward to forms of self-harm. If the root sins are not recognized and addressed, habitual sinful thought patterns can develop, which create weaknesses and holes in your “breastplate of righteousness” leaving you vulnerable to demonic attack (Ephesians 6:16).

A Better Reality

Restored spiritual health will only occur with the proper treatment of anger. You must discharge the power of anger righteously through the gospel.

The gospel provides a new potential to address the fallen reality of life successfully. It unabashedly confirms the misery and evil of the fallen existence and extends, by grace, a path towards restoration (Revelations 21:4-5).

God, in His mysterious wisdom, uses this path, this journey, to transition you from the in-Adam creature fixated on self, into a humble servant, aligning yourself with the right attitude before God. Love, joy, humility, and peace can only come from the new Adam.

Since God is the ever-living, ever-present, ever-acting One, who upholds all things by the word of His power, and in whom all things exist, the relation of the creature to God can only be one of unceasing, absolute, universal dependence. Therefore, the creature must acknowledge that it owes everything to God; its chief care, its highest virtue, its only happiness, now and through all eternity, is attained by presenting itself as an empty vessel, in which God can dwell and manifest His power and goodness – Andrew Murray

Ultimately, traveling this path requires you to answer the call to surrender, to cultivate humility in your life, and continually appropriate the all-sufficient resource attained by abiding in Christ.

The next three chapters will explore these three subjects. Proficiency gained through walking in the power of the Spirit in these areas will not only enable you to enjoy the blessings of your salvation greatly but will also align you with the capability to receive the power necessary to break ongoing sin patterns that continue to linger from the controlling influence of self.

Final Encouragement

Due to sin’s great destructive force, I am sure many of you are weary and on the edge of hopelessness. Like Sam and Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, it is best to travel this journey in a community of Christian brothers and sisters. Yes, there are times where the path is steep, but be encouraged; He is for you, and the road He has you on is headed toward shalom.

We have been called, and graced, to delight in our lives, to feel their irony and angularity, to make something sturdy and even lovely of them. For such undertakings, we have to find emotional and spiritual funding from the very God who assigns them, turning our faces toward God’s light so that we by be drawn to it, warmed by it, bathed in it, revitalized by it. Then we have to find our role within God’s big project…to find one’s role in the building of shalom. – Cornelius Plantinga

Call to Action

  1. Are you able to recognize anger in your life? Relationships? Career? Life’s shortcomings?
  2. Where have your preferred realities crept into life’s expectations? How does it impact your relationship with your family? With God? With others?
  3. What resources do you draw from when addressing life’s difficulties?
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