I have a very bad temper. I have long since learned how to not act on or display that temper, but it is still there. I get these sudden fits of anger, which come and go almost as quickly as does a light bulb when a switch is thrown. I was wondering if you might know of a way that might help me control these fits of anger better, or better yet eliminate them.
One of the great purposes of this life is to gain control over ourselves. You seem to be well along the way. There are three general areas that require self control as enumerated by Alma in the Book of Mormon, Alma 12:14; these would be our actions, our words and our thoughts-listed in increasing order of difficulty to control. It is relatively easy to control our actions. They sometimes take a great deal of effort to produce and often some planning aforethought, and they are immediately open to view and to criticism by those around us. Hence, an added motivation to control our actions is to avoid criticism and censure by others.
Our words are a little more difficult to control. Paul spoke of this in James Chapter 3. As it applies specifically to your question, I’m taking the liberty to reproduce the entire chapter, below. Paul says,
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:1-18)
First are Paul’s comparisons, relating the power of the word to the controlling power of a bit in a horse’s mouth or to the helm of a ship, suggesting that words guide our actions. He then compares the word to a small fire that quickly grows into a large conflagration, suggesting how much damage the spoken word can do, and how difficult it is to control once it has been spoken. Paul explains how difficult it is to control what we speak, saying that “the tongue can no man tame.” He intimates that evil speaking comes from an evil heart, giving the example that the fountain, the fig tree and the vine can only produce that which is characteristic of them-that they cannot bring forth both good and bad. He then explains that such things as envy and strife are of the devil, but that which is inspired of God is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, and that the fruit of righteousness is a manifestation of the righteous.
Now it is a truth that no word was ever spoken that was not the expression of a thought. Words are difficult to control only because thoughts and feelings are difficult to control. The key to this control is couched in the phrases, “the wisdom that is from above” and “the fruit of righteousness.”
I’m sure that you understand that if you would control your temper you must change your character. But there is a step beyond controlling your temper, and that is to not become angry in the first place. Temper arises simply because we judge harshly the acts or words of others. We are commanded not to judge (or condemn) others. Paul also speaks of judging others. He says–
“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.” (Romans 12:17)
Rather than losing our temper when we are offended by others, we should find a way to do good to them. Such action will have astounding results. First, because it is so unexpected, it will throw the other person off his guard. He will hardly know what to say or do. You could even find some amusement in this as you begin to practice it. Secondly, if you want the person punished for what he has said or done, why not leave it to the Lord? If we take it into our hands to deal out punishment, we will undoubtedly either punish too much or too little. The Lord’s punishment is accurate, specific, and just. If you do good to the person who has offended you– “if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink,” the Lord will take care of the matter. By so doing, “thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”
A bad temper, Henry Drummond tells us, is the vice of the virtuous. “It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character…This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics.” Drummond goes on to explain that there are two classes of sin: sins of the body and sins of the disposition; and he feels, contrary to majority opinion, that sins of the disposition, such as bad temper, are the most vicious. He raises the question, “How many [people] are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely characters of those who profess to be within?”
So it seems apparent that to control one’s temper, one must change one’s character. I would imagine that it would help if we were to realize that we have not the right to judge others, and that when we are put upon it represents a significant opportunity to bring that person nearer to Christ by being Christlike in our response to him.