What does it take to “get your goat?” The phrase “get your goat,” like the expression that it is “raining cats and dogs,” is an “idiom” – a phrase commonly used but having a meaning not deducible from the literal meanings of the individual words. The common understanding of “get your goat” refers to someone becoming intensely agitated and angry. One popular (though uncertain) idea about the origin of the phrase “get your goat” is that in days gone by, a goat was placed as a stall-mate with a thoroughbred race horse. The goat supposedly bonded with the high-strung horse and soothed the horse’s nerves before a big race. Gamblers sought to turn the odds in their favor by stealing a thoroughbred’s stall-mate, hoping to greatly agitate the horse so it would run a bad race. According to this idea, to “get one’s goat” came to mean upsetting and angering a person to the point they “blow their top” / lose their cool.”
Now, if the “goat” in the idiom “get your goat” refers to human anger, the message of Scripture and human experience cannot be denied – all of us need a guard for our “goat!” The apostle Paul spoke to the complex human emotion of anger in Ephesians 4:26-27 – ” ‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” I am encouraged but also sobered by those inspired words. I am encouraged by the first part of the passage (quoting Psalm 4:4) – “Be angry, and do not sin.” Here Paul acknowledges and even directs “normal” people to sometimes be angry. Actually, in the passage, he is directing Christians, disciples of Jesus, to be angry! “Be angry” is not all of the command given here, but it is most certainly part of it. Here the Bible acknowledges what modern social science has demonstrated and documented – anger is as human and normal as grief and gladness. To be human is to sometimes be glad, sometimes sad, and sometimes mad! To never be angry about anything, anywhere, in this sinful, messed-up, off-course world is not normal. Mark 3:5 records remarkable words about Jesus Christ as He encountered stubborn, close-minded religious people who cared more about human traditions than helping hurting human beings. Mark says Jesus “looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts.” I am encouraged to know anger can, if correctly controlled and directed, make me more like Jesus Christ.
Yet, I am sobered by the rest of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26-27. After “Be angry,” he continued, “and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” The devil is out to “get your goat!” Prolonged anger makes it much easier for him to gain a “place” (opportunity or foothold) in your life. His goal is not just to make you mad but to use anger to make you sin. Through Paul the Holy Spirit urges us not to “give” him that advantage. Instead, make his job more difficult. Don’t be chronically angry and “let the sun go down on your wrath.” That’s difficult to do these days when the devil is using so many things and so many people to “get your goat.” As noted earlier, anger is not wrong in every situation. But like a fire, anger must be carefully contained and controlled. If not, widespread heat and hurt and harm are the result. Anger is at a fever pitch in the political, cultural, and social air we breathe, and shows no sign of abating. The devil is having a heyday. Many are leaving their goats unguarded. If the devil gets (and keeps) your goat, he can much more easily get your soul. That’s why your goat needs a guard. Think about it.