It happens all too often – two little sisters start arguing and begin a tug-of-war over who gets to go next on the iPad. Or two little brothers argue over who gets to be the superhero and who plays the villain, and their tussle quickly turns to blows and tears. Two strangers “get into it” in a parking lot over a parking space; a harassed and tired parent shouts at their child out of exasperation.
You don’t have to go far to encounter anger in our world. Whether on the news, in YouTube clips that allow us to tune in and witness incidents of road rage, or in our lives as spouses, siblings, neighbors, parents, and children speak and act out of anger toward one another – it seems anger is an everyday reality we must deal with.
Many things can trigger anger in us toward others, and even toward God – a broken promise, the death of a loved one, someone’s bad driving, encountering an unjust situation, things not turning out as expected, and so much more.
As long as we live in an imperfect world populated by imperfect people, there will always be something that can spark off anger in us or others, justifiably or otherwise.
Anger in the Bible
What does the Bible have to say about anger? Is it an acceptable emotional reaction to have in response to our circumstances in life? If so, which circumstances?
Or is it a problem only when it begins to take over our lives and define us? How do we deal with our anger and the anger of others in a healthy way?
This article will briefly look at the key verses about anger in the Bible to help us navigate this part of our emotional lives in a healthy and life-giving manner.
God’s Anger Over Sin
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin . . . .” – Exodus 34:6-7
Let’s start by dealing with the elephant in the room. When the Bible talks about anger, it does speak about God getting angry. However, our experiences with anger may color our understanding of what God’s anger means and looks like.
When some parental or other authority figures have outbursts of anger, these are often uncontrolled, inconsistent, and out of proportion. It leaves one feeling unsafe and vulnerable.
This is the furthest thing from what this verse in Exodus is talking about. In fact, it says that God is slow to anger – He is patient with us and the mistakes we make. He doesn’t react uncontrollably.
Additionally, God is consistent about what He gets angry about – anything that is evil. So, for example, when we see Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Mark 11:15-18), He did so because He saw vulnerable worshippers and their place of worship being abused for financial profit.
When the Bible talks about God being “angry,” it means that God is taking a measured, thought out, firm position of displeasure and antagonism towards what is evil. God isn’t throwing His proverbial toys out of the cot at the drop of a hat.
When It’s Okay to Be Angry
“In your anger do not sin.” – Ephesians 4:26
Anger itself is a valid emotional reaction to circumstances. It is not “sin,” as this verse shows. Just because you are angry does not mean you are sinning.
As noted earlier, God gets angry at certain things. As beings made in God’s image, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves getting angry at the things that anger God.
If we see a child being abused, or a vulnerable person being taken advantage of, anger is a natural and valid reaction. Getting angry at a patently unjust situation is probably the most human thing we can do!
The problem often begins when our anger leads us to act in a way or hold attitudes that displease God, such as doing emotional and physical violence to others, or demeaning other people who are made in the image of God. In that instance, our anger is controlling us and leading us into evil.
Our Own Anger Over Sin
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for human anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” – James 1:20
When dealing with an emotion like anger, we do need to be careful. We need to slow down, become more measured and thoughtful in how we respond to situations. If we react quickly to something someone said or did, our angry reaction may not necessarily be coming from the best place, and it may needlessly escalate the situation.
If we’re honest with ourselves, our anger is sometimes rooted in impure motives and thoughts. Let’s face it – at times, the things that anger us reveal our selfishness and desire for control. I’m angry with you because I wanted that last cookie for myself. Or, I’m angry with her because even though she’s a worthy candidate, she got promoted and I did not.
We must be cautious about our anger and its roots because of this warning from the Bible – “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
God made us, and, thankfully, while we may be able to deceive ourselves about our motives and what’s going on inside us, we will never be able to pull the wool over God’s eyes.
We may feel justified in our anger, but if we take the time to examine ourselves in light of God’s Word which “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12), we will be better able to weigh our intentions and make sense of what’s going on in our hearts.
For this to happen, we need to slow down, as James says, and not be led by our anger into quick and unfiltered action or speech. Sadly, things get said and done in anger that can take a lifetime to repair.
Additionally, if we can slow down and keep our cool, we will be better able to wisely deal with and deescalate the situation – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
Deal with Anger Promptly
“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” – Ephesians 4:26-27
Often, the longer you are angry at someone, the harder it is to reconcile with them and restore the relationship. That anger can take on a life of its own, and the root issue that began it all becomes secondary. The Bible encourages us to deal with our anger promptly; don’t “let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
In this verse, Paul is entreating us to seek resolution to the causes of our anger – especially in the context of relationships – sooner rather than later. This doesn’t mean avoiding taking the time we need to process our feelings and refusing to acknowledge what we feel. We are, as noted already, thinking and feeling beings, which is how the Lord made us.
Rather, what the verse is suggesting is that we shouldn’t let our feelings of anger simmer unresolved, because anger can take root and open us up to being led astray. Left unresolved, that anger can be leveraged and used as a “foothold” by the devil to lead us astray.
Think about it – if you are angry with your partner and you allow that anger to fester, isn’t it the case that we can be tempted more easily toward unkindness and unloving thoughts about them?
Isn’t it also the case that in our anger, left to itself, we become more amenable to let verbally abusive words fly from our mouths toward our kids? Even our anger toward God, if left unresolved, can end up being a serious challenge to our relationship with God. Our anger can thus become an obstacle to us loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Christian Counseling for Anger Issues
Anger is a valid emotional response for people to have to many situations in life. But at times, that anger can become overwhelming or destructive in our various relationships. If you feel like you don’t have your anger under effective control and that it’s negatively affecting your life, then you may want to consider Christian counseling to help you.
With a Christian counselor, you can explore more of what the Bible says about anger, enter a safe space to talk about your feelings and struggles, and learn skills for dealing with anger in a healthy and life-giving way.
“Studying the Word”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cactus”, Courtesy of Heye Jensen, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Cooling Off”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Getting Away”, Courtesy of Averie Woodard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License