We all get angry and we all deal with anger. Life in a fallen world is filled with disappointment, hurt, and sins–ours and others. It is something we often experience but seldom stop to understand. My goal in this article is to understand anger while helping us to resolve the problems associated with anger.
Love and anger are biblical companions
We live in a world filled with the works of God’s anger. God is the angriest person in the Bible. His response of anger and wrath is the only appropriate response from a holy and righteous Person. But to properly understand His anger, you need to see how it must be accompanied and motivated by His love.
It is love which makes anger biblical because love motivated anger resolves the problem of evil. Biblical anger offers a solution to evil. It also brings God inexpressible glory while bringing us inexpressible blessing. Love-motivated anger does three things:
- It justly condemns evil
- It severs the power of remnant evil
- It brings relief from suffering
These three blessings are what we see in and receive through the Atonement–an act of God’s love toward us and His anger toward sin. Love and anger work together, giving us the fullest expressions of His goodness and glory.
Thus, to fully understand the gospel, we must first understand His anger. We cannot focus exclusively on His love. If we did, our view of God would be incomplete, immature, and misguided.
Godly anger – sinful anger
Anger comes naturally. Since we are made in God’s image, we are hardwired to be angry at wrong. Unfortunately, sin has impacted this holy attribute resulting in sinful anger.
We are called to be angry, but not sinfully angry (Ephesians 4:26). But we have a difficult time distinguishing between Godly anger and sinful anger. Godly anger is love. Sinful anger is evil.
Godly anger looks to serve others–the Atonement. Sinful anger says, “I want my way not God’s and because I can’t have my way, I rage at you.” This is not redemptive. It is not a mirror of God’s anger.
Anger is also learned from our environment. Children of angry parents learn anger through their modeling and after some practice, it becomes the child’s habit. The child is poised and ready to pass what he has learned to the next generation.
Since we are all interpreters, anger is our evaluation of the situation. But we must remember our angry response itself will be evaluated. Is it a Godly anger or is it sinful anger?
God and the devil are both angry all the time; on whose side is your anger? – David Powlison
This is a sobering truth. To help you think about your anger, here are seven basic questions, with a few clarifying questions to help you ponder and as you assess your anger.
- Do you get angry at the right things? Are they things God commands or your own criteria for good and bad?
- Do you express anger the right way? Does it condemn (evil motivated anger) or does it help (love motivated anger)?
- How long does it last? If it settles into hostility and bitterness, then the devil has won.
- Is your anger controlled? Self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
- What motivates your anger? Are you seeking to glorify God or feed a desire of the flesh?
- Is your anger primed? Do you have a bullet in the chamber ready to be fired? Why hasn’t the Gospel neutralized past sins?
- What is the effect of your anger? Does it create more problems? Does it impact the roots of a problem or attack the fruit–a person’s behavior?
Lies about anger
There are three misconceptions or lies about anger. These misconceptions are prevalent in our culture and can appear to be Christian in nature. They present potential stumbling blocks for those who struggle with anger. Here they are:
Lie #1 – Anger is something inside me. It is important we biblically define anger and not resort to worldly definitions. There are several popular models of anger which suggest anger is a thing inside which builds up over time.
We must recognize anger is not a thing, but a moral act of the whole person. Anger does not need to be vented; it is an action of the whole person which needs to be brought into obedience with God’s commands.
Lie #2 – It is ok to be angry with God. This is a false theology, most likely the result of blending psychological thinking and the laments contained in the Psalms.
Underneath one’s anger at God you will find a heart controlled by cravings and lies which have been substituted for the living and true God.
God has never promised freedom from tears, mourning, crying, and pain – or from the evils that cause them – until the great day when life and joy triumph forever over death and misery. – David Powlison
The anger at God which is seen in some people invariably masks a deep self-righteousness and expresses a blatant unbelief. It is an excuse to dissociate from God, while clinging onto personal preferences or perceived rights.
Lie #3 – My problem is anger at myself. This is another fruit of self-esteem teaching. This false teaching can be given a Christian wrapping by misguided counsel, which sounds like the following:
- God did not create junk.
- Jesus loves you, therefore you are worthy.
This kind of thinking will lead you to feel good about yourself while stopping you from being angry at yourself. You can feel good about yourself, but not solve the underlying sin problems. This thinking serves you, but does not glorify God.
If these three lies are truly exposed, you can now dive into a pathway out of anger. Here are eight simple questions which can be used to reorient you to Christian reality:
- What was the situation? Why were you angry?
- How did you react? This will reveal your thinking.
- What were your motives? – What was threatened? This will expose lusts and idols.
- What were the consequences of your anger? What fruit was produced?
- What is true? What would God say about your anger?
- How can you turn to God for help?
- How should you respond in this situation to glorify God?
- What are the consequences of faith and obedience? How is the kingdom of God displayed?
War-making vs. Peacemaking
Anger is just one of the weapons of conflict used against others and God. To resolve anger, you must deal with the conflict too.
In our flesh, we are naturally war-makers. We follow the ruler of this world, Satan. We compete against God and others for the throne – we want to be lord.
We fight because of the desires which battle in us (James 4:1). We fight because our kingdom is not being achieved. We try to control our own will, and in doing so we become perverted, corrupted, and polluted. We becomes in fact, Satanic. We want, we want, we want, and we want.
Another aspect of war-making is judging. When we are sinfully angry, judging is there. James speaks to this a few verses later in James 4:11-12. When we judge, we are playing God. We are God wannabes, just like Satan.
We act exactly like the adversary who seeks to usurp God’s throne and who acts as the accuser of the brethren. – David Powlison
Peacemaking is God’s domain. Peacemaking always begins with our vertical relationship. When we are in sinful anger, we need to surrender. We need to recognize that in conflict, we have hunkered down in our foxholes, throwing destruction in the direction of any threat to our desires.
We need to recognize this, confess, and repent. We need to climb out of our foxholes with our hands up and surrender. We have a God who cares for us. He is waiting for us to come to Him as we learn from the parable of the Prodigal Son. And in doing so, we become Godly. The gentleness of Christ can be reflected in our actions and counsel.
To help see this truth, David Powlison used an illustration of two closed books banging into one another. Just like closed books, people in conflict refuse to see themselves, while inflicting harm where they can.
As Christians, we are called to open our books and take a look at ourselves. If we understand the Gospel, we can do this because we know we are the biggest sinner in the room (1 Timothy 1:15), and we have no righteousness apart from Christ. Once the books are opened, humility is present and God’s grace flows (James 4:6).
Be angry and build up
This article was written by Mark Grant. It is his summary of three articles by David Powlison–Anger Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. For Mark’s Distance Education Program I required he read and critique these articles on anger. Mark went on to say,
Anger seems to be one of those topics the church has neglected to fully teach – at least in the churches I have attended. Since sinful anger has been the source of such great heartache, the general teaching on anger has been simple – don’t be angry.
So there is this tendency to remain neutral. But this is not an option. We are either being conformed to God or to Satan. If we are to do good, we must be angry at sin and evil, but our anger needs to reflect God’s anger. The gospel shows me how my anger at sin should be done in a way to offer help and not condemn.
Let me illustrate – While reading these articles, my daughter became disrespectful as I was trying to help her log onto a website. Being gentle in nature (likely formed by fear of man), my reaction was not to yell, but to quickly make peace. I thought peace would glorify God.
But then this teaching came to mind and I realized she was choosing her will over God’s authority. My actions would be peace-faking and would not glorify God.
So in a calm voice and with a calm heart, I told her she was sinning and she was upset because she felt she should get her way, when she wanted, and the way she wanted it.
She immediately became civil and her tone of voice returned to normal. After dinner she came up and apologized for her behavior. I was so thankful. By God’s grace, I remained angry at sin, but responded in a way which defended God and served her.
In some small way I helped her open up her book, which she was using to hit me, and to see what was really going on in her heart.