Many Christians may have questions concerning what is sinful compared to what is only bad manners. The topic of anger is one of those areas in question. Is all anger sinful or is there such a thing as righteous anger (anger for a good reason)? Is feeling angry ever okay for a believer?
Psychologist Robert Plutchick constructed a model indicating that we have eight primary emotions: anticipation, joy, acceptance, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, and anger. Anger can range in intensity from simple annoyance to frustration, dissension, malice, hatred and rage. Plutchick says that emotions are reactions to our environment that arouse us for action. Anger releases adrenaline to give us energy to be able to fight when we feel threatened or endangered. Another way psychologists view behavior is through the cognitive-behavior model. This model is used by counselors to review how clients process information. A situation may happen, for example getting passed over for a promotion, where how we think about that situation (cognitive) will determine how we feel (emotion) about it, and how we feel will determine what we do (behavior). So thoughts determine feelings or emotions, and emotions determine our behavior. We can choose what we think, so we can control how we feel. Since we can control how we feel, we can control what we do. Therefore, anger does not control us.
You may be wondering, when is it okay to be angry and when is it not? God made humans emotional beings just like he is an emotional being. Because of this both God and Jesus displayed anger; however it was in the face of our sinful behavior. Our reactions of anger are more often because of our own selfishness, rather than a desire to honor God. In a sense there is anger that comes from love and anger that comes from sinfulness.
In most Biblical examples, the English word anger is the Greek word orge which means the emotion of instant displeasure or indignation, and while the emotion itself is not a sin, the place where it comes from or the action it causes can be. For example in Ephesians 4:26, it says, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (NIV). Anger that comes from a fallen-human place is the sinful nature that Paul warns about numerous times, such as in Colossians 3:8, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”
As Christians we are commanded to follow in the Lord’s example. Do we know if God or Jesus in his humanity ever got angry? First let’s look at God. He destroyed the entire world with a flood because humanity had decayed from sin (Gen. 6:5-7). He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because those who lived there turned their backs on God and all that was good (Gen. 19:13). He confounded languages at the Tower of Babel because the community was prideful and they wanted their own immeasurable greatness rather than giving God the glory (Gen. 11:4).
Jesus also has moments of anger like we do. In Matthew 21:12, we are told a story about Jesus getting angry with the sin occurring at the temple. Jesus “overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.” Jesus’ anger was justified and righteous because he was provoked by our sinfulness.
No one has to tell us that anger is a difficult and sometimes dangerous emotion. It is easy to experience, but hard to handle. Anger can be managed, out of control, or suppressed. Needless to say, anger must be managed. Managed anger is when a person can be assertive without harming any person, place, or thing. Out of control anger can result in rage and produce stupid and undisciplined behavior. Suppressed anger is content to do nothing when perhaps something should be done. Mismanaged anger can even cause physical side effects.
When I used to counsel people with anger issues I would encourage them to find a non-destructive “release valve” such as music, dancing, exercising, meditation, listening to praise music, or some pleasant or strenuous activity to let go of some of the anger. Controlled and effectively managed anger provides energy for the person to resolve the issue.
In James 1:19-20, it says “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” What does that look like? Christians who are angry against sin are not promoting God’s desired goal of goodness in the world. Rather, Christians should turn that anger into an action of love to change the world for God’s glory.
WHETHER WE ARE SINNING IN OUR ANGER OR NOT, WE MUST ALLOW THE HOLY SPIRIT TO WORK IN US AND LEARN TO FORGIVE.
I believe we need to use the energy provided by our anger and turn it into love to correct an evil or injustice. For example, in 1980 Candice Lightner lost her 13 year old daughter in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver. Using anger effectively and finding compassion for other children she formed the organization known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Her anger, which was provoked by sin, caused her to act positively against the evil that took her daughter’s life.
How do we learn to react in this way instead? Phil 4:8 tells us the answer to the question: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV). In addition, 2 Cor 10:5 says, “Bring every thought into captivity.” Keeping our thoughts pure, especially through prayer, is a great example of a way to control anger. Our thoughts create our emotions and our emotions cause our behavior, so if we are allowing God to shape our thoughts, we will act accordingly.
Forgiveness is essential to managing anger. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Anger can be a destructive emotion if allowed to be, but if we turn our anger into love through the Holy Spirit, we can learn to forgive. If our anger is out of love and not selfishness, it can be used for God’s glory.
OUR REACTIONS OF ANGER ARE MORE OFTEN BECAUSE OF OUR OWN SELFISHNESS, RATHER THAN A DESIRE TO HONOR GOD.
Anger is a natural and biblical emotion that all humans have. Even God and Jesus experienced anger. Their anger was justified because it was rooted in love and a desire to extinguish sin. Because we are sinful, we have sinful anger that is rooted in selfishness. The Holy Spirit allows us to recognize the difference between the sinful anger we have and the righteous anger that God has. Either way, we need to know how to deal with those emotions. For sinful anger, praying for Jesus to guide our reactions and looking for a healthy outlet to let it all go are the most productive. When we experience righteous anger, we need to look to God, pray, and learn to turn it into an action of love that benefits others and glorifies God. Finally, whether we are sinning in our anger or not, we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and learn to forgive.