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Biff’s wife was late again. This was the second time this week she was late coming home from work. She gets off at 5 PM and is usually home within an hour. On two occasions, it was after 7:30 before she arrived.
As she was walking through the door, Biff was standing in the foyer demanding answers for her tardiness. Rather than asking questions to learn her perspective, he was spewing accusations. Mable went on the defensive. The Christian lyrics in her earbuds turned to noise as her mind began to shut down. She did not anticipate his anger.
While there are many things wrong with this scenario, I want to focus specifically on Biff’s anger and how it has complete control over him. No doubt there are things Mable could do better. That’s always the case. Any conflict is an opportunity for both people to change. This was the implication of Paul’s language in Romans 12:18.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12:18 is my fifty-percent verse. Imagine a football field where both spouses meet at the 50-yard line. Paul is saying each person is called to do what “depends” on them to do. Mable needs to do her part and Biff needs to do his part. That’s called marriage. That’s what mature and humble families do.
When both spouses are willing to meet in the middle, sharing, confessing, encouraging, owning, and maturing together, good things will happen. When one chooses not to do that, bad things happen. In this chapter, the onus is on Biff to do his part.
Whenever a person chooses sinful anger, he is, in effect, giving the other person control over him. In the moment of his anger, he is like a marionette, a puppet on a string.
Anger toward someone is the total submission of your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors to that person. It is not self-control but out of control (Galatians 5:22-23). The angry person is under the control of someone else. This is what happened to Biff. He was a controlled man. Mable owned him, though she did not know it, want it, or plan it.
As you look deeper into the situation, you will find layers to the problem. Under the surface of Biff’s heart is a craving for things he can’t control. This idolatry is what fuels his anger. James said it this way:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. – James 4:1-2
The real culprits in the battle scene with Biff and Mable are the underlying motives for Biff’s behavior. James called those motives passions, desires, and coveting.
Mable did not realize she is Biff’s functional god. She is the provider for what Biff wants. If she gives him what he craves, he will be happy. If she does not satisfy the cravings of his heart, he will use anger to manipulate his functional god until he gets what he wants.
In one sense it would not matter who Mable was because Biff does not care about her. She’s just a supplier and he’s the addict. He could be married to Peggy, Delores, or Andrea, and it would be the same problem.
This is where Mable needs to guard her heart. She could say, “I didn’t sign up for this,” which would be true. If she is like most newly married people, she signed up for the love that should conquer all their problems. Unfortunately, she married an addict whose main interest is what he wants, when he wants it, how he wants it, and if he does not get it he will use anger to rattle his god until she submits to his demands.
In the moment of Biff’s anger, he believes Mable has something he needs. The impulse is so controlling that he will blow his stack. Manipulating other people through anger has proven to be effective. At this point, Biff does not have to think about it. He’s habituated his life (Galatians 6:1-2) to respond this way when he does not get what he wants.
The latest flare-up is an illustration of this. Of course, Mable was not thinking about the complexity of Biff’s heart. She was too busy shutting down, going on the defensive, and trying to figure out how to diffuse her angry husband.
Mable unwittingly owned Biff. She was his puppeteer. Fortunately, she is not a devious person who gets her jollies from playing her husband on a string but she does need to be aware of his insecurity. She needs to demonstrate extra vigilance to help him overcome the war in his habituated heart–if she can (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Perhaps when there are “no conflict times” she could help Biff identify what really has control of his heart and begin walking him through a process of repentance (Ephesians 4:22-24). He needs to understand the problem is not Mable or her being late. Something else has control of his heart.
Part of the problem is that there is an element of fear in play here. You could say it this way: Biff is afraid he is not going to get what he wants so he chooses anger as a way to get it. It is a perceived need from Biff’s perspective. Here are three possibilities:
The crux of the matter is that Biff “needs” something. This is why he has an elevated expectation and a plummeting disappointment each time his expectation is not met. He is a weak man. The real question could go like this: Do you really “need” for her to be home on time?
How many arguments have you gotten into with someone only to look back on it to realize how silly it was? If you’re like me, there have been times where you had elevated something that’s not that important until you became sinfully angry. After our desires morph to needs, sinful demands will ensue. The angry person has way too many needs. Let me give you an example of a real need:
Real Need: Thirst – A person dying of thirst will do almost anything to get a splattering of water to quench his thirst. The need for water controls him. He feels insecure (fearful) and rightly so because he will eventually die without water.
Biff does not really need respect, total control of his wife, or comfort as I outlined above. He will have to decide if he is going to love God and his wife more than his cravings (Matthew 22:36-40).
Not Real Need: Desire – When a child does not get his way, he may choose to pout as a tactic to get what he wants. He feels he “needs” something. This craving to get it turns to pout (disguised anger). This is his tactic to acquire what he has elevated to a need.
In the case of the child, anger is a common manipulative tactic to get his way. We all have done this. Here is the irony: Though he is trying to control his mother, he is really under her control. She is the supplier of the craving child and if she withholds what he demands, he’s under her power.
The mother is like Mable; she does not see herself as the child’s functional god but if she did, she could begin shepherding his idolatrous heart so he does not grow up to be Biff.
When Biff expressed anger toward Mable, he gave up his power and strength to her. She had the power to give in to his demands or ignore his demands. This is an untenable conundrum. He has put her in such a defensive posture that her first reaction is to give him what he wants.
By the time the child becomes this big and domineering, the wife has lost nearly all ability to shepherd his grown-up, hard heart. If Biff does not repent of his sinful anger, he will keep her in this impossible place.
Then again, it hardly matters what you do for the addict. He will never be satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8). If you give the addict his drug, he will demand more. If you cut off his supply, he will blow his stack. Mable has unwanted power over Biff. His idolatry has put her between a rock and a hard place.
The only right answer to this marital mess is for Biff to repent. He needs to identify what it is that he is afraid of not getting, to the point that he resorts to anger in order to get it.
If Biff is really blinded by his sin, he may even believe Mable is doing something wrong or on purpose in order to tick him off. Sin is irrational and disorienting to the person who is sinning. We do know Biff cannot have a clear perspective because God does not bless willful sinners (James 4:6). Biff will have to repent to find God’s illuminating favor.
The point-of-focus must be how he is giving her control over him while the Savior is patiently waiting and yearning to rule over him. To blame her for his sinful anger is unbiblical, heinous, and self-deceptive, which are three things Biff is doing.
Under the spell of controlling cravings perpetuate fractured relationships. This is Biff’s experience. He is stubborn and proud. He does not have the joy of Christ in his heart. His relationships with God and his wife are fractured. At this moment the only thing that satisfies him is for Mable to meet his expectations. It’s a recipe for a joyless home. Mable was never intended to be his god (Exodus 20:3).
Biff must turn his heart from his idolatry to hope in the God of all comfort. If he does this, he will be free from the bondage of fear, insecurity, unreasonable demands, and idolatry. Only Christ can satisfy his deepest longings.
Because he has placed his hope in a fellow sinner, he is shooting himself in the foot. Repeatedly. It’s a setup to be frustrated as well as fractured. Biff must wholeheartedly turn to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than he could ever ask or think, according to the power at work within him, assuming Biff is a believer. (Ephesians 3:20, paraphrased)
He will have to decide if he wants to do the hard work of repenting, which is the only way he can be free from the cravings that control him. For a clearer understanding of what repentance looks like and what Biff needs to do, please read my article on the 13 steps to repentance.
As for Mable, here is some advice I trust will enable her to persevere in her broken marriage: