By Kathy Collard Miller, Crosswalk.com
Everyone experiences anger to some degree; therefore, every person should care about what the Bible says about anger. All our human emotions are given to us by God, but anger is often the most misunderstood and misused.
Unfortunately, 40 years ago, I was out of control with my anger. My anger reached the point that I became an abusive mom. I hated my husband, Larry, and prayed the plane he was flying (as a hobby) would crash. Even though I was a Christian, I hated myself, terrified I would kill my toddler daughter in my next rage. I believed God couldn’t love me and had no intention of helping me.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. God intervened, and through growth and healing, He revealed my anger’s underlying causes, which went back to my childhood. God healed my relationship with my daughter and my husband. Today, my grown daughter and I have a wonderful relationship. Larry is now my best friend, co-author, co-speaker, and the godly husband I always desired. We recently celebrated our 52nd wedding anniversary. Our story (which I tell in my book No More Anger) shows how human emotions don’t hamper God.
Since anger can be destructive, we should pay particular attention to God’s perspective. Let’s consider what the Bible says about anger.
What Kinds of Anger Does the Bible Mention?
While some angry behavior is less destructive than other behavior, we should not diminish the significance of any anger the Bible mentions. We can use innocent-sounding names to dismiss what might be sinful anger. For instance, we may excuse our anger by saying, “I’m not angry, I’m just…”:
Although those verbs might describe mild anger, which is not sinful, we may open the door to increasingly sinful anger that dominates our lives. Denial is deeply dangerous where anger is concerned. Ephesians 4:26-27 emphasizes this:
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
From these verses, we learn should recognize anger, quickly deal with it, and understand how ignoring anger increases temptation.
- corrupting talk
- a desire to destroy
- without grace
- doesn’t fit the occasion
- grieves Holy Spirit
In contrast, Ephesians 4:32 urges us to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving because God has forgiven us.
Two Kinds of Angry People in the Bible
Although the Bible gives many examples of godly and ungodly people with anger, two provide an important contrast: unrighteous Cain and righteous Jesus.
In the second generation of humanity, we see Cain getting angry because God rejected his unrighteous offering. Genesis 4:6-7 tells us, “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 contrary to you, but you must rule over it.’”
God graciously asks about Cain’s heart motives by asking “why.” God doesn’t quickly say, “Stop being angry.” He is helping Cain examine his heart and why he is so bitter. God is urging him to deal with his anger quickly, as Ephesians 4:26-27 says. Cain refuses to inquire into his own heart and murders his brother.
In contrast, we have the godly example of Jesus responding with righteous anger. In every instance of Jesus exhibiting anger in the Gospels, He is motivated by love and justice. Yes, even when He cleansed the temple (John 2:13-17), His actions were not rash. Drawings of the scene might indicate He used a long whip with a terrible fury upon His face. However, the account says, “he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen.” It doesn’t mention him directly striking any person, and the emphasis is on using the “whip of cords” to drive out the sheep and oxen. Consider for a moment that He made the whip. Making a whip took time. This was not the action of a rash man who got angry for an instant.
Furthermore, the whip may not have been the weapon we imagine. Some translations describe the “cords” as leather, but Strong’s concordance notes that the whip was made of schoinion, “a rush or flag-plant, of uncertain derivation.” Many commentators believe it was a rather small hand-held gathering of reeds from the ground.
Let’s not forget what Jesus’ motivation was for cleansing the temple. He was angry for righteousness’s sake. This anger would be better identified as “zeal,” as prophesied in Psalm 69:10: “The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.” Jesus’ anger stemmed from His desire to correct the situation, not to react in self-defense or lack of trust in God. His response was an example of loving these sinning people “well,” turning them away from their sin.
It’s also worth noting that people’s reactions in the John passage may show the Holy Spirit was doing something in the context. John describes Jesus as doing this at the start of His ministry, His first public display after the wedding at Cana. The people seeing this unknown, zealous man would not have responded the way they did unless the Spirit of God was moving within them, convicting them. Otherwise, they would have just brushed him off and called upon the authorities.
What Defines Ungodly Anger?
An initial angry reaction is not necessarily sinful; it’s what we do with the feelings. We can define ungodly anger as motivated by selfishness, showing disobedience to God’s leading, and a desire to destroy whatever is blocking our desires.
In contrast, as Hope Bolinger observes, “righteous anger stems from love because it recognizes that someone’s actions or words stray from the path of righteousness.”
In a similar vein, Vivian Bricker writes, “Righteous anger is rooted in a deep love for God and for others. This type of anger is justified before the Lord. If we have righteous anger because of someone slandering God’s Name, our anger is justified.”
Anger and its other initial responses can be caused by grief, blocked goals, being misunderstood, being falsely accused, or feeling voiceless. Ungodly anger, therefore, is based on trying to defend ourselves from being seen as worthless. In those times, we distrust God’s ability to protect us and reject the value God has declared about us (Ephesians 1:3-14).
Ungodly anger can be identified by the tone of voice, physical reactions, disobeying the Holy Spirit’s prompting, using harmful words, and rehearsing past hurts.
How Can Christians Overcome Anger?
Not only can Christians overcome their anger, but God commands it for His glory. Here are insights for overcoming anger.
1. Be aware of your feelings. Initial feelings can indicate wrong ideas, thoughts, and distrust of God. Compare your feelings to the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
2. Slow down. Many ungodly angry reactions result from quick decisions. Righteous anger comes from reacting with the wisdom of James 1:19-20.
3. Ask God to reveal the underlying reasons for the temptation of sinful anger. God asked Cain, “why?” and we should invite the Holy Spirit to ask us, “why?” Ask, “What seems threatening to my well-being, image, reputation, and anything of value to me.” Ask yourself, “Why do I want to react this way? Will it bring glory to God?”
4. Anger creates energy. Anger creates physical power originally designed by God to motivate His created beings to take righteous action against injustice. Don’t misuse this energy. Instead, use it in godly ways: stand for those being mistreated, talk with a trusted friend or counselor, journal, pray, and study the Bible.
5. After every sinful response, immediately confess and ask for God’s forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). The faster you are forgiven and cleansed, the faster you will recognize the temptation of sinful anger the next time. You will also experience greater humility which fuels hate for sin.
6. If you cannot overcome your anger, seek Christian counseling. Overcoming anger is a process of healing from past hurts, being willing to surrender to God’s will, and believing only God’s opinion matters.
How Can We Seek Reconciliation After Anger?
God knew anger would be a challenge for us. That’s why He gives us the example of His reconciliation with us through Jesus’ death and resurrection. In following Jesus’ example, we learn how to reconcile with others.
Mike Leake explains, “Righteous anger in the Bible does relate to injustice but it centers upon God’s Word and God’s character and it is concerned with the treatment of others more than treatment of self.” Seeking reconciliation with others about our sins gives us hope we can become more selfless and treat others well.
Here are ideas for reconciling with someone you have hurt.
1. Prepare your heart by confessing your anger and your wrong choices to God. Receive His forgiveness and cleansing.
2. Take total responsibility for your own choices. Regardless of how you were mistreated, God holds you responsible for your choices. You can never say, “But I was only angry because you….” God’s responsibility is to convict and judge other people, not yours.
3. Consider writing out your confession if that will give you greater confidence to stay on point when you share. Do not text, email, or leave a message on voice mail unless it’s impossible to meet personally or use a way, like Facetime, to see someone’s face. Say something like, “I’m so concerned about the harm my anger has caused. If you’d like to share what that was like, I want to hear it. I care about you and ask for your forgiveness.” Don’t just say you are sorry. Allow the person to express their pain even if their understanding of the situation is skewed. This is not the opportunity to change someone’s opinion. If the person asks for your perspective, that is God’s open door for sharing, but don’t justify, excuse, or blame.
4. Leave the results to God. If the person who experienced your anger is unwilling to forgive you, you aren’t responsible for forcing them. You have done your part. If you also have experienced anger from that person, forgive them. Forgiving doesn’t mean allowing someone to continue to mistreat you.
5. After doing what you can, resist feeling regret or responsibility. You have pleased God with your submission to Him, but Satan will attempt to bring condemnation (Romans 8:1). Remember you are set free in Christ.
A Prayer to Heal from Anger
God will hear and cares about your prayer to heal from anger. Jesus died so that you could be set free. Consider praying something like,
“Lord God Almighty, I confess I allowed my anger to get out of control. I don’t want to hurt others, and I seek your help because this is beyond my power. Give me hope that you want to help me and have a plan for me to grow in self-control. Thank you that you have already put my sin of anger on the cross when Jesus died for my sins. Thank you for already seeing me blameless because of my inheritance as your child (Ephesians 1:4). Please help me love others well and surrender to whatever plan you have for me, even if I feel attacked or afraid. I pray for others who I have hurt. Minister to them and heal them. I pray in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
Just as God healed me of my ungodly anger and restored the relationships within my family, I can assure you God wants to do the same for you. Continue to meditate upon what the Bible says about anger and trust He is working more than you can see.
Further Reading/Great Resources:
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