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Biff’s wife was late again. Her lapse was the second time she was late coming home from work. This week! She gets off at 5 p.m. and is usually home within an hour. On two occasions, it was after 7:30 before she arrived. As she walked 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 so she would know his perspective. 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 had complete control over him. Every conflict is an opportunity for both people to change, and undoubtedly, Mable could do better, which is always the case; we all can do better. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” in Romans 12:18 is my 50 percent verse. Paul says each person is responsible for doing what “depends” on them.
Mable needs to do her part, and Biff needs to do his. It’s called marriage. Imagine a football field where both spouses meet at the fifty-yard line. 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 primary focus is on Biff. What can he do better?
Anger toward someone is submitting your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors to that person. Whenever an individual 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. It is not self-control but out of control (Galatians 5:22-23). The angry person is under the control of someone else, which is what happened to Biff. He was a controlled man: Mable owned him, though she did not know it, want it, or plan it.
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).
Under the surface of Biff’s heart is a craving for things he would like to control, but he can’t—his passions are controlling him. In the battle scene with his wife, the underlying motives for Biff’s behavior are the culprits. James called those motives passions, desires, and coveting—all synonyms that point to not-so-hidden idolatry simmering in his heart.
Mable did not realize that she was Biff’s functional god; she’s like a soda machine that has what Biff craves. If Mable gives him what he wants, 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. She’s just a supplier, and he’s the addict.
He could be married to Marge, Maggie, Mildred, or Madge; it would be the same problem. This sad truth is where Mable needs to guard her heart because she could say, “I didn’t sign up for this,” which would be true. Like all newly married people, Mable signed up for a love that should conquer all their problems.
Unfortunately, she married an addict whose primary 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—or soda machine—until she gives what he demands. Biff is so blind that he does not realize that manipulating other people through anger is ineffective ultimately. But through many adverse shaping influences that predate their relationship, Biff is a habituated man, entrapped by these wicked desires that reduce his wife to an idol dispenser (Galatians 6:1-2). The latest flare-up is an illustration of this old pattern in his life.
Of course, Mable was not thinking about the complexity of Biff’s heart or the shaping influences that got him to where he is today. She was too busy shutting down, going on the defensive, and trying to figure out how to diffuse her angry husband. Fortunately, Mable is not a devious person who gets her jollies from playing her husband on a string, though she does need to be aware of his inner insecurities that create and perpetuate his complexity.
Perhaps when there are “no conflict times,” she could help Biff identify what has control of his heart and begin walking him through a process of repentance (Ephesians 4:22-24; 2 Timothy 2:24-25). He needs to understand the problem is not Mable primarily or her being late. The heart of the matter is that Biff wants something, so he chooses anger as a way to get it. Here are a few possibilities of what might be happening in Biff’s heart that tempt him to get angry at his wife.
The crux of the matter is that Biff has an elevated expectation (desires) and a plummeting disappointment each time Mable does not meet those expectations. 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 we gotten into with someone only to reflect and realize how silly it was? The angry person has way too many needs, which is what happens when our desires morph into needs. Here are examples of real needs versus desires so you can see the differences.
In the case of the child, anger is a manipulative tactic to get his way. Here is the irony: though he tries 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 does perceive the deeper complexity, she could begin shepherding his idolatrous heart so that he does not grow up to be Biff.
When Biff went off on Mable, he gave up his power to her. In the moment of his anger, she had all power—to give in to his demands or ignore them, an untenable problem. Her impulsive reaction is to give him what he wants; we’re all like this. By the time the child becomes this big and overbearing, the wife has lost nearly all ability to help him. If Biff does not repent of his sinful anger, he will keep her in that impossible place. Here’s the untenable conundrum:
Of course, you have the added problem that it hardly matters what you do for the addict; he will never find satisfaction through “under the sun” methods (Ecclesiastes 1:3). If you give the addict his drug, he will demand more. If you cut off his supply, he will blow his stack. Mable is between a rock and a hard place.
The only correct answer to this marital mess is for Biff to repent. He needs to humble himself, own his anger, identify his heart idolatries, and surround himself with courageous, compassionate, and competent helpers.
Sin is irrational and disorienting to the person who is sinning. If Biff’s sin continues to blind him, he may always believe Mable is doing something on purpose to tick him off. He may never see how his anger is inside of him—as James said, not Mable or other things in his world. Biff’s relationships with God and his wife are fractured.
Under the spell of controlling cravings, perpetuate fractured relationships. At this moment, the only thing that satisfies him is for Mable to meet his expectations. It’s a recipe for a joyless home as he has placed Mable in a position to be his god (Exodus 20:3). God does not bless willful sinners (James 4:6). Biff must begin the process of repentance to find God’s illuminating, eye-cleansing favor.
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 shoots himself in the foot. Repeatedly. It’s a setup for unrelenting frustration and fracturing.
Biff must wholeheartedly turn to Him, who can do far more abundantly than he could ever ask or think, according to the power at work within him, assuming Biff is a believer. He will have to decide if he wants to do the hard work of repenting, which is the only way to be free from the cravings that control him.
As for Mable, here is some advice I trust will enable her to persevere in her broken marriage:
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).