There are many verses in the Bible that caution against anger, some of which simply call it evil. But there are also scads of verses dedicated to talking about God and His anger. This has always interested me, because if we’re made in God’s image and He at times gets angry, then anger in and of itself can’t be evil. Jesus got angry from time to time, too. He cursed the fig tree, he overturned the tables of the money lenders, and he reprimanded his disciples and the Pharisees. So what is is that we, as Christians, are supposed to do with our anger? As I already said, the Bible seems clear that we ought to be abandoning it:
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil. (Psalm 37:8)
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (James 1:19-21)
I’ve actually heard that verse from James quoted in a very different context, one that said that we should be getting rid of the sinners in our churches because we have to get rid of moral filth. This is interesting, of course, because the verse is directed at the individual. At the end of the day, aren’t we all a little filthy? Don’t we all have to cope with things like anger and jealousy and ingratitude?
One thing that I have had to confront over the past few years in a rather harrowing way is my own anger. Like many Christians, I felt like getting angry was a bad thing and it showed a fundamental flaw in my moral fiber. As my marriage became more strained, I fought harder and harder to subvert my anger. I became caught in an endless loop of feeling anger and frustration with my spouse but hating myself as a result of it, and that bitterness which I then self-directed became one of the leading causes in my losing a sense of my own worthiness as a human being and even, in a very dark period of my life, almost completely losing faith in God’s love for me. Let me explain: anger, in and of itself, is not evil. Anger is an attribute of God which He Himself talks about. Anger can be, in the right situation, a good thing. The problem is understanding anger and it’s role in our becoming more righteous. Anger is, essentially, a warning system. When God becomes angry in the Bible it is a warning to sinners that they have moved too far away from His plan for their life. Similarly, when we as people become angry it’s a sign that something is wrong. The problem is using our anger in a righteous way. Anger isn’t a tool which should be used to destroy others, but instead a tool which should be used to cut through the bull in our own lives and allow us to see ourselves more wholly.
Let’s go back to the problems in my marriage: my anger was a natural response to the fact that something wasn’t right. If I used my anger to attack my spouse I became a part of the problem. So, in that sense, I was right to not want to be angry, because it was right to not want our relationship to be harmed. But, on the other hand, by subverting my anger and pretending nothing was wrong I also became a part of the problem, because I destroyed the possibility of pinpointing what was wrong and using that knowledge to deepen my relationship with my spouse. By denying my anger I ultimately put our marriage as close to ending as I would have by giving in to it, although it just took a little longer and I destroyed more of myself along the way.
Our anger is another part of how God made us, how He is made and how His Son is made.
Another problem with Anger is that if we try to ignore it, it tends to come out of us in unpleasant ways. I can’t tell you how many times my son has exploded in anger at his sister, only to later confess that it was me he was angry with. I’ve seen the same thing in the church when one person has been wrung out on the rack for sinning, and it turns out that the person who started the inquisition was guilty of the same thing. I’ve seen it the most for pornography. We need to learn that we can’t iradicate our own sin by attacking others. Even if we beat the gay and the porn addictions out of every other person on the planet, if we ended the day still mired in our own filth we wouldn’t have won our way into God’s good graces.
So that anger you feel, from time to time? That anger I feel? We need to deal with it. We need to sit in silence and let it work like a knife, cutting through all of the lies we tell ourselves to make it okay. We need to ask, what is the real problem here? What is it that I need to acknowledge?
Then, my friends, open your eyes. Turn away from the anger knowing you can leave it behind, because you’re going to deal with your issues. Make a resolution with yourself that you will not ignore your anger. You will control it, you will command it. You will not let it rule you, consciously or unconsciously. You will set aside your anger and confront the problems in your life through love.
Not least of all on those days when our anger shows us that we are the problem, not our enemy.