I’ve come to a realization about myself in the last few years: I am not good with anger. I don’t mean to imply that I am an “angry person”; anyone who’s familiar with me knows that I’m a very low maintenance, easy going person. What I do mean is that, when it comes to realizing when I should be angry about something and how I handle that anger, I am woefully underprepared.
In my case, it’s the result of my personality combined with lifelong observations of angry people. I’m a very accepting, non confrontational sort of person. If someone has a disagreement with me, I do my best to understand their side of the argument before voicing my own. I value harmony, unity, and peace. I value it even more after seeing firsthand throughout my childhood the staggering negative impact that anger had on relationships. I witnessed the verbal explosions, set off with very little warning, that would erupt between two close family members. I’ve heard enough heated exchanges to realize that all I was hearing was two angry people who were so convinced that they were in the right that one refused to listen to the other.
So, I washed my hands of the emotion all together. I decided that, outside of people attacking my God, my family, or my friends, anger was a wasteful and damaging emotion that had no place in my life. There is always a better way to handle or respond to situations than yelling or demeaning the other person. Some of you are probably nodding your head in agreement; and you’d be right, for the most part. Most situations do not call for the explosive energy that anger provides. Here’s the only problem with it: I still got angry. I still got mad at my brothers for saying hurtful things. I still got mad at my Dad when I felt he was being unfair. I even got mad at God for not making things better in my family when I asked for it. My stance didn’t make my anger go away; it made me suppress it or feel ashamed of it to the point where I had developed a bitter and fearful edge in my heart towards the people I loved and towards God. I was conflicted: When was it right for me to be angry? How can I express my anger without being cruel? Today I want to talk about anger as the Bible views it and help give you a few tools to use when you are angry.
Let me start by saying that not all anger is sinful. While the Bible has plenty of warnings against anger (specifically against acting out of anger), there are plenty of times when God is angry with people. Psalms 7:11 says “God is a just judge, and is angry with the the wicked every day.” John 2:13-18 has an account of Jesus chasing the money lenders out of the temple. When there is a true injustice, when the weak and powerless are taken advantage of, when people abuse their power and position or turn a blind eye to wicked acts: these are the things that stir up God’s anger. Anything that falls under the list of things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19) should also be offensive to us. When we experience abuse and witness man’s wickedness first hand, we should be upset. However, the key here is this: “Be angry and do not sin.” (Eph. 4:26) Just because it’s acceptable for you to be angry does not automatically mean that you are allowed to ACT out of that anger. James 1:20 tells us that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” What are we to do then? How do we process our anger?
First, be honest. It’s ok to be angry. Acknowledging that emotion is the first step to dealing with it. Don’t try to hide or suppress the feeling. Be wise in how and when you express it (“A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back.” Proverbs 29:11), but don’t gloss over the emotion. Like Pastor Hamilton has said, anger is a red flag that’s used to indicate that something is wrong and shouldn’t be ignored.
Second, be inquisitive. Seek to find the true source of your anger. Analyze the situation. What was it that caused such a strong reaction from you?Whether or not your anger comes from a place of sin or of righteous indignation will determine how to process it. Knowing this will also take a lot of the guess-work out of determining if you should even be angry in the first place.
Third, be submissive. Regardless of where your anger comes from, you must always submit it and yourself to the Lord. If your anger comes from a place of sin, you must repent of it. If that anger is the result of an injured pride or as the result of an actual grievance (slander, injustice, theft, etc), then you must let it go into God’s hands. Don’t hold onto it. Holding on to anger leads to the creation of bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts. Romans 12:19-21 cautions us to give our wrath to God and not to take matters into our own hands. More often than not, acting out of anger (even with good intentions) rarely results in anything good. We are not to avenge ourselves on others. Only God has that right and privilege. If we trust that He is a just God, then we can trust that He will defend and avenge us. Remember that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God”.
Fourth, be kind. So much falls under this last act. 1 John 4:16 declares that “we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” The thing to remember about God’s anger is that it is always paired with great mercy. He shows mercy to even to those we think are the most undeserving of it; all because of His great love for us. While it’s ok for us to be angry, it is not ok for us to act out of our anger. Our actions, no matter how justified our anger might be, must come from a place of love. Even Jesus chasing the money lenders out of the temple follows this logic because Jesus’ actions and His righteous anger were sparked by His love of His Father and His Father’s house. If you say that it’s impossible to be angry and to act out of love at the same time, I will point you towards your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, and say that if you have been in an argument with any of these people, you know that it is indeed possible. It isn’t easy; but it is possible. James 1:19 tells us, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Listen to the other side first. This is such a crucial step in resolving your anger. Listening allows you to gather more information on a problem, whether it’s another person or a situation. The more information you have, the more complete of a picture you will see which will help to bring the proper perspective on the matter and on your own reaction to it. Don’t be quick to deliver a harsh word or judgement. Remember that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
In summary, friends,
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Eph. 4:31-5:2
Anger has its place; but it must always submit before the power of the cross, God’s forgiveness, and His love. Let anger be the flag that draws your attention to a problem and sparks the desire for change; but never let it be the sole source of motivation in your life. Your actions must still flow out of love. Jesus didn’t come into the world to judge it, but to save it. As His ambassadors, we aren’t called to judge people, but to show that they can be saved and model a different way to live as best as we can.
Have you struggled with anger in the past? Do you still struggle with it now? What is the source of your anger?
What are your “buttons” when it comes to anger? Understanding what makes you angry and why will help you in processing it in a Biblical manner.
What are the ways in which you can show God’s love in the midst of your anger?