The Howard Dean Syndrome

Howard Dean is an angry man. You can tell by the way he talks to people. You can also tell because lots of people are talking about how angry he is. I’m writing these words the day after the New Hampshire primary where he lost for the second time in a week to John Kerry.

Maybe he’s got good reason to be upset. Last night as the returns were coming in, and it become clear that he would end up a distant second to Kerry, the media pundits tried to explain his amazing implosion over the past few weeks. Certainly part of it stems from the relentless attacks he endured from his opponents. And there is a big difference between running for governor of Vermont and running for president of the United States.

But that’s not the heart of his problem. In his public appearances Dr. Dean gives the appearance of not only being angry, but also having to struggle to control his anger. It should be noted that these are two distinctly different issues. There is a time and a place for anger. “In your anger do not sin” (Psalm 4:4). The Apostle Paul liked that so much that he quoted it in Ephesians 4:26, and then added two words of application: “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Sundown marks the divine time limit on your anger. If you go to bed angry, you are likely to wake up in a bad mood. But when you start the day that way, the devil already has a foothold in your life.

Solomon adds this bit of wisdom in Proverbs 16:32, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” Remember that Solomon’s father was one of the greatest military leaders in history–a man named David, of whom the women of Israel sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (I Samuel 18:7). David knew how to fight and he knew how to kill. Because he was a “man of blood,” he could not build the Temple. That was left to Solomon. Perhaps he learned from his father that it is possible to go to war too quickly, or for the wrong reasons, or in a fit of anger.

Taking a city is good if the city needs to be taken. Take a city and you become an overnight hero. Larry King will interview you. You’ll be on the cover of Time magazine. And no one will care that you lost your temper and killed a few “extra” people along the way. That’s the way of the world. God honors the man whose temper is under the Spirit’s control. That man may never be famous on earth. Controlling your temper won’t win many awards. But if you lose it, you won’t win many elections either.

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