Category: Anger

God and Anger

There’s a verse in Ephesians 4:26 which says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” From this, I have to assume that feeling angry is just something that’s going to happen. It’s part of life. It’s an emotional response to the things that bother us. But our response should be to deal with it, and put it away, rather than letting it take hold of us. Recently I failed at this in a big way. I was badly hurt and became angry, and instead of dealing with it, I savored it, I let it melt in my mouth, and it became part of me.

I forgot God, and anger became my friend. We talked together often, anger and I. And I began to see everyone as an enemy – first the individuals who had hurt me, and then those associated with them, and then “people like that” and then “people” in general. The world seemed to me full of demons and God seemed irretrievably far away. And predictably, I began to be unlikeable myself, uncomfortable in my own skin, and full of unreasonable and irascible thoughts and words, for “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20

God and Anger: Escaping with Jonah

I knew I had two options: return to God and draw from His strength or escape. I chose escape, not because I did not trust or love God, but because returning to God meant (in my mind, at the time) that I would have to return also to those Christians who had hurt me – that I would have to approve of them, and accept their judgements of me – and that thought was intolerable. So, I began to wander away from the Bible, away from ministry, away from people who could help, away from the very thought of God. Like Jonah, I was commissioned to minister and help others, and like Jonah, I wound up “angry enough to die”.

I just wanted God to provide me a shady place to sit and watch the world go to hell.

I am fully aware that my response was wrong, and sinful. There is no place, nor justification for anger. But there is a lesson here for believers and the church. Our words and actions matter. We can hurt others deeply when we disregard their feelings, and we can cause a chain reaction that extends far beyond ourselves. When the root of bitterness springs up, it defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). I love this verse from Romans 15:1-3:

“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

God and Anger: An Exhortation

I heard once that “the measure of a man is not in the way he treats his superiors, but the way he treats his inferiors”. Spiritually speaking, some of us are stronger than others, the Bible says. To those who are spiritually “inferior” (that is, less mature, or weaker, or newer in faith) the strong have this obligation: bear with their failings, for this mirrors Christ. Christ bore our reproaches, and we should bear one another’s sins, failures and reproaches in a similar way. Like one organism, the body of Christ is meant to build itself up, cutting away all the little tumors of anger or bitterness that appear before they cause even more damage.

By Tiffany Wismer

We can know for sure that our anger or indignation is righteous when it is directed towards what angers God Himself. Righteous anger and indignation is justly expressed when we are confronted with sin. Good examples would be anger towards child abuse, pornography, racism, homosexual activity, abortion, and the like.

The Apostle Paul gives clear warning to those who anger God: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). Jesus expressed righteous anger over the sins of the people (Mark 3:1-5; Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:41-44). But His anger was directed at sinful behaviors and unmistakable injustice.

However, we are also taught to be careful in our anger, that we do not sin. “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). We should check our attitude as well as our motive before becoming angry with others. Paul gives us some sound advice on the appropriate approach: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19-21).

James also gives us good instruction when it comes to righteous indignation: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). The Apostle Peter echoes this advice especially for those times when we face those antagonistic towards God and the things of God: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:14-17).

Believers can also channel their anger into constructive action by becoming involved with Christian organizations that combat the influence of evil in society. The key is that, if our outrage results in bringing others into a loving and restorative relationship with God, it’s righteous indignation.

We often feel anger when we do not understand why something is happening. It is only natural, then, that there will be times when we do not understand why certain things are taking place in our lives and find ourselves angry with God. Is this wrong?

First, it is clear that there are occasions when anger can be good. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” We can be angry yet use it in either a positive or negative manner. Even Jesus was angry at times, turning over the tables of those who misused the temple as a place to make money (Matthew 21:12-17).

Second, while anger can sometimes be positive, anger at God is not. Jonah 4 provides a clear example. In this chapter Jonah was angry because God did not bring about the judgment upon the city of Nineveh He had promised because the people of the city had repented. God also allowed a vine to grow to give Jonah shade and soon allowed it to wither, causing Jonah more anger. In the end, God questioned Jonah’s anger, stating that His plan was to save lives as well as the animals of the city. His plan was better than Jonah’s selfish anger.

This is often the same situation we find ourselves in when we become angry with God. When He operates in a way we do not agree with or understand, we can become angry with Him instead of seeking to understand or to worship Him regardless, knowing that He works out plans according to His ultimate good (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 8:28).

Scripture calls us to trust the Lord, relying on His goodness and compassion as revealed in the Bible and in times past. Psalm 34:18 affirms, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Second Corinthians 1:3-5 also notes that our suffering can allow us to serve as an encouragement and help to others: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

Understood from this perspective, it is wrong to be angry with God. Why? Our anger toward Him is based on our selfish or limited perspective of situations fully under His control. When we become angry with God, it can reveal our lack of trust in His leadership, His wisdom, and His plan for our lives and the lives of others. Instead of anger toward God, we are called to worship Him, to pray to Him, and to seek wisdom when we lack understanding (James 1:5).

“Do not cast your pearls before swine” is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, and to understand its meaning, we have to understand its context and placement within the sermon. Christ had just finished instructing the crowd on judgment and reproof: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2), and “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Then in verse 6, Christ tempers these admonitions and shows us the difference between “judgment” and “discernment.” The analogy of the dogs actually comes from Proverbs: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Swine are also described in this way, as illustrated by Peter: “Of them [false prophets and teachers] the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud’” (2 Peter 2:22). The dogs and swine here are representative of those who would ridicule, reject, and blaspheme the gospel once it has been given to them. We are not to put forth the gospel of Jesus Christ in the direction of someone who has no other purpose than to trample it and return to his own evil ways. We identify such people through discernment, which is given in some measure to all Christians (1 Corinthians 2:15-16). This does not mean we refrain from preaching the gospel. Jesus Himself ate with and taught sinners and tax collectors (Matthew 9:10). In essence, the instruction in Matthew 7:6 is the same that Jesus gave to His apostles when He said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matthew 10:14). We are not to judge others, for we are guilty of the same things they are. Reserving judgment, however, does not prevent us from discerning those who would accept, or at least respect, the gospel from those who would ridicule, mock, and trample it, and then turn on us and abuse us. Balancing judgment with discernment is the wisdom of serpents Jesus refers to in Matthew 10:16.

Handling anger is an important life skill. Christian counselors report that 50 percent of people who come in for counseling have problems dealing with anger. Anger can shatter communication and tear apart relationships, and it ruins both the joy and health of many. Sadly, people tend to justify their anger instead of accepting responsibility for it. Everyone struggles, to varying degrees, with anger. Thankfully, God’s Word contains principles regarding how to handle anger in a godly manner, and how to overcome sinful anger. Anger is not always sin. There is a type of anger of which the Bible approves, often called “righteous indignation.” God is angry (Psalm 7:11; Mark 3:5), and believers are commanded to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Two Greek words in the New Testament are translated as “anger.” One means “passion, energy” and the other means “agitated, boiling.” Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. Examples of biblical anger include David’s being upset over hearing Nathan the prophet sharing an injustice (2 Samuel 12) and Jesus’ anger over how some of the Jews had defiled worship at God’s temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-18). Notice that neither of these examples of anger involved self-defense, but a defense of others or of a principle. That being said, it is important to recognize that anger at an injustice inflicted against oneself is also appropriate. Anger has been said to be a warning flag—it alerts us to those times when others are attempting to or have violated our boundaries. God cares for each individual. Sadly, we do not always stand up for one another, meaning that sometimes we must stand up for ourselves. This is especially important when considering the anger that victims often feel. Victims of abuse, violent crime, or the like have been violated in some way. Often while experiencing the trauma, they do not experience anger. Later, in working through the trauma, anger will emerge. For a victim to reach a place of true health and forgiveness, he or she must first accept the trauma for what it was. In order to fully accept that an act was unjust, one must sometimes experience anger. Because of the complexities of trauma recovery, this anger is often not short-lived, particularly for victims of abuse. Victims should process through their anger and come to a place of acceptance, even forgiveness. This is often a long journey. As God heals the victim, the victim’s emotions, including anger, will follow. Allowing the process to occur does not mean the person is living in sin. Anger can become sinful when it is motivated by pride (James 1:20), when it is unproductive and thus distorts God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 10:31), or when anger is allowed to linger (Ephesians 4:26-27). One obvious sign that anger has turned to sin is when, instead of attacking the problem at hand, we attack the wrongdoer. Ephesians 4:15-19 says we are to speak the truth in love and use our words to build others up, not allow rotten or destructive words to pour from our lips. Unfortunately, this poisonous speech is a common characteristic of fallen man (Romans 3:13-14). Anger becomes sin when it is allowed to boil over without restraint, resulting in a scenario in which hurt is multiplied (Proverbs 29:11), leaving devastation in its wake. Often, the consequences of out-of-control anger are irreparable. Anger also becomes sin when the angry one refuses to be pacified, holds a grudge, or keeps it all inside (Ephesians 4:26-27). This can cause depression and irritability over little things, which are often unrelated to the underlying problem. We can handle anger biblically by recognizing and admitting our prideful anger and/or our wrong handling of anger as sin (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9). This confession should be both to God and to those who have been hurt by our anger. We should not minimize the sin by excusing it or blame-shifting. We can handle anger biblically by seeing God in the trial. This is especially important when people have done something to offend us. James 1:2-4, Romans 8:28-29, and Genesis 50:20 all point to the fact that God is sovereign over every circumstance and person that crosses our path. Nothing happens to us that He does not cause or allow. Though God does allow bad things to happen, He is always faithful to redeem them for the good of His people. God is a good God (Psalm 145:8, 9, 17). Reflecting on this truth until it moves from our heads to our hearts will alter how we react to those who hurt us. We can handle anger biblically by making room for God’s wrath. This is especially important in cases of injustice, when “evil” men abuse “innocent” people. Genesis 50:19 and Romans 12:19 both tell us to not play God. God is righteous and just, and we can trust Him who knows all and sees all to act justly (Genesis 18:25). We can handle anger biblically by returning good for evil (Genesis 50:21; Romans 12:21). This is key to converting our anger into love. As our actions flow from our hearts, so also our hearts can be altered by our actions (Matthew 5:43-48). That is, we can change our feelings toward another by changing how we choose to act toward that person. We can handle anger biblically by communicating to solve the problem. There are four basic rules of communication shared in Ephesians 4:15, 25-32: 1) Be honest and speak (Ephesians 4:15, 25). People cannot read our minds. We must speak the truth in love. 2) Stay current (Ephesians 4:26-27). We must not allow what is bothering us to build up until we lose control. It is important to deal with what is bothering us before it reaches critical mass. 3) Attack the problem, not the person (Ephesians 4:29, 31). Along this line, we must remember the importance of keeping the volume of our voices low (Proverbs 15:1). 4) Act, don’t react (Ephesians 4:31-32). Because of our fallen nature, our first impulse is often a sinful one (v. 31). The time spent in “counting to ten” should be used to reflect upon the godly way to respond (v. 32) and to remind ourselves how the energy anger provides should be used to solve problems and not create bigger ones. At times we can handle anger preemptively by putting up stricter boundaries. We are told to be discerning (1 Corinthians 2:15-16; Matthew 10:16). We need not “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). Sometimes our anger leads us to recognize that certain people are unsafe for us. We can still forgive them, but we may choose not to re-enter the relationship. Finally, we must act to solve our part of the problem (Romans 12:18). We cannot control how others act or respond, but we can make the changes that need to be made on our part. Overcoming a temper is not accomplished overnight. But through prayer, Bible study, and reliance upon God’s Holy Spirit, ungodly anger can be overcome. We may have allowed anger to become entrenched in our lives by habitual practice, but we can also practice responding correctly until that, too, becomes a habit and God is glorified in our response.