“I get so mad every time he does that, I just want to scream.” “She always says those kinds of things and it just drives me nuts.” If you haven’t uttered these statements or some version of them out loud, you have thought them in your head. These feelings ache inside us like heartburn. It takes little more than a single snide comment or even a quickly furrowed brow to set our human blood to boiling. In his brief book, Good and Angry, David Powlison opens with a chapter titled “Angry People,” which helps us see the deleterious effects of anger upon relationships, including those most dear to us. Then, his second chapter titled “Do You Have a Serious Problem with Anger?,” is just one single word: “Yes.” None of us think we are “angry people,” but we should recognize the evidence is largely in the other direction. We get annoyed, frustrated, exasperated, irritable, testy or something similar. Those very adjectives are synonyms for anger listed in any thesaurus.
People get angry—inside and outside the church. Christians are not immune to this, and our current world has made it all the worse. In a sea of soundbites and posts, stories and Snaps, nuance is lost and compassion often along with it. We can conveniently rage from behind a screen, which is far more easily done than to another’s face. One of the lessons of the recent leaked information from Facebook should be the power of anger. Losing control over our anger hurts others and opens us up to manipulation. Anger is an ugly thing on many levels.
God’s Word on Anger:
What does the Bible have to say about anger? A lot, as it turns out, and it is more complex than we might assume.
Anger can create distance between us and the Lord. “For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20. It taints our worship. “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” 1 Timothy 2:8. It damages our parenting effectiveness. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4. Anger spreads by the company we keep. “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” Proverbs 22:24-25. Jesus actually explains and extends the Sixth Commandment to describe anger as murder of the heart: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:21-22.
At the same time, the Bible says anger itself is not inherently sinful. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27. It is possible to be righteously angry. In fact, anger is described as God’s righteous posture of judgment against the sin of the world—that it will be a “day of the anger of the Lord.” Zephaniah 2:3. Our God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” He cannot sin, and yet he most certainly is angry at sin, yet his anger is patient, measured and slow.
This past week I found myself, well, angry. It wasn’t holy anger aimed at sin, but unrighteous anger filled with sin. I lost my temper and blew up at my kids. I got annoyed with my wife and became silent and cold. I became testy with others when I didn’t get my way. This was beyond ironic considering anger was one of the themes from my sermon on Sunday. But despite being the only one facing this irony, I know I’m not the only one having this issue.
Handling Our Anger:
So, how do we handle our anger? Here are some thoughtful practices:
- Resist — With so much anger in the world, it can be easy to think we’re not the problem. If one fan really goes after the little league referee, it is easy to move in the same direction and not feel so bad by comparison. God calls us to a holy standard by which we are judged. There is no grading on a curve.
- Re-evaluate — We need to do the hard work of evaluating our anger to determine if it is righteous or sinful. We, too, are sinners who live in this sinful world, so we should regularly evaluate our anger, every time that emotion arises. Doing so is a much needed discipline.
- Recognize — To address a problem, we must name it. We get angry and it is usually (not always) sinful. Lashing out in anger is not having a bad day or being really passionate. It is sin. We must acknowledge it as such.
- Repent — Look carefully what the Apostle Paul said at the end of Ephesians 4:26-27: “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” When harboring anger, we are not to hold on to it long—certainly not into the next day. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we confess it quickly. Repent and return to the Lord.
- Reconcile — The rest of Jesus’ statement on murder of the heart is a good roadmap: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24. If you have sinned in anger against another person go to them right away, seek forgiveness and make amends. Jesus says to do it before you return to worship! That’s serious because this is important. Reconciliation stops anger from festering into greater sin.
- Regard — Above all, we must greatly regard our Savior. Jesus Christ is the only One who was angry but never sinned. More than that, he died in our place. The righteous, holy anger of the Father against sin was poured out on the blameless Son at the cross. Knowing that was done for us, can we not help but let go of our sinful anger? Doing so is honoring to God and a witness to the Lord whom we follow.