Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? (Genesis 4:6, 7a)
Someone has just crunched your car, and you are angry. He was sixteen and hot-rodding. You are angry at the kid, at all of today’s kids, and at the system for letting such irresponsible people out on the streets. And to top it off some Christian comes up and tells you to put away all anger and wrath. Well, that really does it. Platitudes! That’s easy for him to say. Besides, the Bible says you can get angry. Jesus got angry when he drove the money changers out of the temple. And anyway, it’s bad for you to keep anger in; it is better to be authentic than hypocritical.
On and on go the excuses and justifications. You attempt to convince yourself that it was really okay to get angry. I suspect we have all heard and very likely used these excuses. If anybody is so foolish as to try to point out that angry is not what God would have us to be, we simply add him to the reasons for being angry.
Some people lose their tempers over what you may call trifling things (i.e. those things that don’t bother you): in efficiency in the office, some one cutting in quickly and taking a parking place, the way a husband leaves his socks on the floor, or the wife who is chronically late. Isn’t it amazing what can make people really ticked?
Others may get angry at “more righteous” things like world hunger, abortion, war, lack of civil rights, or discrimination. There are hosts of other reasons that can set off tempers, reasons that are as individual as fingerprints. But what ever our trigger is, the Bible has some very definite things to say about anger.
The most often used justification is, The Bible says to get angry. Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it does say, “Be angry…” (Eph . 4:26,NKJV). But that is often where people stop. They ignore the next part that says, “and do not sin.” Christians are often very good on the first part of the command but a trifle weak on the second half. The verse adds a second condition to the command, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
There are other verses that can be interpreted to allow anger. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” Again, that indicates that if you just don’t fly off the handle, that’s okay. But again, the following phrase adds some light to the subject. “For man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19,20).
Perhaps, then, it is okay to be angry if
1. we do not sin;
2. we don’t go to sleep with it;
3. it is anger from God and not man’s anger;
4. it achieves righteousness;
5. it comes slowly.
Do you have the feeling that if these qualifications are met, the amount of anger would be cut drastically?
Another Biblical reference that is appealed to is when Jesus cleansed the temple (Matt. 21, John 2). This is a tricky passage to use as a proof text, for our anger is rarely so righteous. Even though the passage never actually says that Jesus was angry, we can still see how it fits at least four of the five qualifications.
The anger seemed to be God’s, for the cause of the anger was not self-centered. He was purging God’s temple. The result was righteousness. Be cause it was of God, it was not sin. It came slowly enough to allow him to make a whip. If we like, we can assume the sun did not go down on His anger.
If we are not up to likening our anger with Christ’s, we may well use the You don’t understand routine. Perhaps I don’t understand, but Christ certainly does. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was with out sin” (Heb. 4:15). Christ sympathizes with our weakness, but it doesn’t end there; He gives us grace in time of need (v. 16).
If we were more sophisticated, we could say that psychologically it is better to release our anger. Pent up anger may well give us ulcers. Of course, if we release our anger, others may get ulcers. It rarely occurs to people that there may be a third option, i.e., taking our anger to God. This does not mean venting our spleen towards God (“authenticity”). It means admitting to God that you are angry, that if it is not going to achieve His righteousness, you do not want it. With this confession, our anger is removed from us, we may continue our life in the joy of the Lord and nobody gets ulcers.
The Scriptures have just these few indications that anger may be all right under limited circumstances, but it says a lot more about the folly of anger and its sinfulness.
“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Col. 3:8). “Fits of rage” is listed as one of the deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. “An angry man stirs up dissention, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” (Prov . 29:22) “. . . a quick-tempered man displays folly.” (Prov. 14:29) Proverbs has a lot to say on the subject.
Suppose you are now convinced that your anger is not of God and you would like to get rid of it. How do you start? First, it is good to see where your anger is from:
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. (Lk. 6:45).
What we see here is that the fruit of our lives is generated from the state of our heart. If our heart has an evil treasure the overflow will be evil. If that is the case, two steps must be tak en. The first is ex pressed in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We need a heart-searching by God. The second is to con fess the sins of the heart to God, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one an other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I Jn. 1:7,9). The anger will disappear from our hearts like the money changers from the temple.
Once our heart is clean, we should fill it with all sorts of good things. Things that are true, honor able, right, pure, love ly, of good repute, excellent and worthy of praise are a few suggestions given by Paul in Philippians 4:8. This can also be defined as the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2).
Does the idea of putting away all anger seem hopelessly impossible to you? If it were only up to us to keep perfect control, the idea would be impossible. But thank Him it is not.
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence with out fault and with great joy. . . . Amen (Jude 24).
Note: In an age where there is so much talk about low self love, it does not occur to people that some one might love himself too much. Most anger is not generated in protection of other people. It is a response caused by loving oneself too much. “I am too nice, or too important to be treated this way. ” There fore anger. If the anger is a “fit of rage” then this is a character is tic of a non-Christian. Jesus saves us out of the list of works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 and saves us into the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
If you know you are a Christian and have “fits of rage” then these must be confessed and forsaken to day.