Across the Pastor’s Desk: Dark impulses vs. better angels

Published 8:00 pm Friday, September 24, 2021

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Ken Jensen

A Cherokee grandfather related to his grandson a legend about a struggle which goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil and filled with anger, envy and hate.  The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

Kenneth Jensen

The grandson thought about this for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

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The elderly Cherokee replied, “Whichever one I feed.”

It affects us individually. It overflows into society. Jon Meacham, in his book entitled “The Soul of America” defines the battle of two wolves within as a struggle between our “dark impulses” and our “better angels.”  Either one, upon marshalling sufficient support, plays a significant role in shaping who we are as individuals and as a nation.

The danger comes when we release our “dark impulses” — anger, bitterness, resentment, hatred and other negative or hurtful things. Such emotions cloud our judgment, cause us to be more aggressive and lead us into unacceptable actions we later regret.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul states, “If you are angry, do not let anger lead you into sin; do not let sunset find you still nursing it; leave no loop-hole for the devil …[Instead] be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:26, 32 (NEB).    

Experts tell us that harboring anger and resentment has a negative effect on health and longevity. I commented to the administrator of the long-term care facility where I served as chaplain that I was surprised at how quickly many residents adjusted to nursing home life. His response? “Individuals with negative attitudes are already dead!”

Feelings are normal reactions to what we are experiencing at the time.  It’s what we do with them that matters. Feelings eventually morph into attitudes, which we choose to have. It’s which wolf we decide to feed.

Ken Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.