Recently, anger seems an overwhelming part of our cultural, political, and personal rhetoric. Should we be concerned, or is anger an appropriate response to perceived injustices?
The Anger of the Lord
I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant, and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless…Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken out of its place, at the wrath of the Lord of hosts in the day of his fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:11,13)
The most common appearance of anger in the Bible is God’s rage against sin. Sin offends his perfect righteousness; its power rebels against his Lordship; its presence corrupts his creation. Sin demands his justice and judgment.
Anger is meant to reveal an injustice, a wrong that needs righting. The Lord’s anger is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). Anger is an appropriate response to suppressed truth, immoral living, and rejection of God’s will. It signals something broken that needs fixing.
The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. (Psalm 103:8-11)
While his justice must be satisfied, God consistently provides escape from his anger over sin—Noah’s family enters the ark; the sacrificial system is set up; Jonah warns the Ninevites of impending doom. People humble themselves before him, and God softens his anger or turns it aside.
But these temporary reprieves of God’s anger simply delay the inevitable confrontation between God and the sin of humans. So God, in his love, sent Jesus to satisfy the demands of his justice. Jesus took God’s full anger for sin on himself, so that wrath will not fall on those who trust in Jesus.
The Anger of Man
The complication is that our personal sin can incite our anger even more easily than the sin committed against us.
The Bible’s first mention of anger is an excellent example. Cain and Abel offer sacrifices to the Lord. Abel’s sacrifice is found pleasing; Cain’s is not.
So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:5-7)
Cain’s sin-perverted sense of justice has been affronted. God encourages Cain to act rightly, not to trust his anger. However, he ignores God, embraces anger, and kills Abel.
Continuing this trend are more examples of humans acting in anger:
- Levi and Simeon angrily wipe out a city.
- Saul, in a rage, tries to kill David.
- Jonah angrily pouts when God spares Nineveh.
- Even Moses, who several times seems righteously angry on behalf of God’s holiness, disobeys God while frustrated by the people of Israel.
Our struggle with sin warps our anger to the point that it can’t be trusted.
…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)
What Are We to Do with Our Anger?
Develop a long fuse.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Proverbs 14:29)
While God is just and right in his anger, he is also slow to anger. He is constantly holding back on his anger to allow for repentance. He is often delaying judgment of the guilty to spare the innocent in their midst.
The Lord has been patient with us in our sin; we are to extend the same kindness to those who sin against us. In fact, “it is [our] glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
Do not let your anger drive your actions.
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. (Proverbs 4:4)
Ideally, anger can tell us that something is wrong and energize us to do something about it. However, we are corrupted by sin, and so is our ability to responsibly use anger.
Our anger now responds not only to injustice around us and done to us, but the wrongness in ourselves. If anger is a response to some sin we have committed, it could be a powerful tool for repentance. However, sin also inflates our selfish pride to gigantic proportions and, with it, our indignation at perceived wrongs.
I notice this often with my family, when they don’t follow my expectations—of which they are often ignorant. They don’t listen as I’d like, or they impede something I want, or embarrass me, and I feel justified in my rage, having made myself into a little, petulant god.
Sin damages our perceptions: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye and do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). Others’ sins are maximized, while ours are minimized. Our anger responds incorrectly to this imbalance.
Anger impairs our ability to make wise decisions. “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalms 37:8). Better to wait, do nothing, and ponder the matter once anger is no longer clouding our judgment.
Get over your anger quickly.
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)
Get over it, and fast. If reconciliation is possible, pursue it (Matthew 5:23-24; Romans 12:17-19), but if not, you must still release your anger. Allowed to fester, anger dramatically increases opportunity for temptation and sin. The Lord is our example: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5).
Be wary of the anger of others.
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)
Anger is contagious. If we are around it too much, we become more prone to anger ourselves. In relationships where sinful anger is already a struggle, Matthew 18:15-17 tells us the general principle of dealing with sin:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Be especially careful of your own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. If you are fearful for your safety, bring in trusted advisers, and get yourself—and others for whom you are responsible—into a safe place. Then you can continue to minister to the anger-struggling individual in love, in the hopes that you may “save [them] by snatching them out of the fire.”
Reflect on the reasons for anger.
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (Proverbs 15:18)
Angry people tend to start fights, which is far more damaging than helpful. “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Anger cripples reason. Many news articles show how anger causes reckless, illogical, and damaging behavior. Decisions made in anger are dangerous!
Due to sin, human anger is untrustworthy and should never be used to motivate action. Instead, it must be extinguished swiftly and surely. Then, once the anger is safely quenched, search for the wrong which ignited it—starting with yourself!
The Answer to Anger
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)
Christ humbly came down from glory to live a poor life and die a painful death, so we could be rescued from God’s wrath against our sin. He took that rage upon himself on the cross so that we could be free to experience the Father’s love. He rose from the dead, conquering death, so we could one day stand with him in that victory. Then he returned to the Father so he could send us the Holy Spirit, who works in us continually to make us image-bearers of Christ, our Savior.
Christ’s example teaches us to humble ourselves before God, to acknowledge that our anger cannot produce his righteousness; and he leads us to sacrifice our pride, to lay aside our anger, and be at peace.
The Holy Spirit searches us and takes every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, making us increasingly aware of our triggers and temptations towards wrath so that we may see danger coming and turn away. We work alongside the Spirit, listening and obeying, relying on the strength of God for our daily obedience.
God is our example: If he loved us so much that he provided his only Son to mitigate his just and holy anger against sin, how much more should we in gratitude lay aside our selfish anger to love those he has placed around us?