Should Christians be angry? What are the dangers of human anger, and how do we avoid them?
Several weeks ago, my son David was engaged in a discussion with a classmate about whether a Christian should ever be angry. My son argued that God shows anger and Paul writes “Be angry but do not sin (Ephesians 4:26).” His disputant suggested that God alone can be angry, but humans never should. Like many conversations, this one dragged on, with neither man convincing the other. David remained calm, but his counterpart did not. Resolving nothing, they parted company.
Should Christians be angry? Under what circumstances? If so, how should we manifest our anger? We must begin with definitions. Merriam Webster defines anger as “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.” If feeling is defined as an “emotional state or a reaction,” then anger is an emotion. Many people believe that humans cannot control their emotions. If this is true, then anger justifies no opprobrium against Christians or anyone else.
The Bible, however, does not teach that humans cannot control their emotions. Fear is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger,” and yet God commands His people not to fear (Exodus 20:20, Psalm 34:4, Isaiah 41:10). Anxiety is a feeling, an “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill,” and yet Jesus orders His followers not to be anxious (John 14:1). The Bible acknowledges sadness as an inevitable part of life, but promises that joy will ultimately prevail (Psalms 30:5, 11).
Practically, while we cannot control our instantaneous feelings, that eruption of joy or the flash of anger that overtakes us, we can quickly direct those emotions in whichever way we desire. We can amplify constructive emotions and redirect destructive ones, using Biblical truth as our standard. How do we do this? We control our emotions by prayer, praise, and focusing our thoughts:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:6-8).”
Jesus became angry (Mark 3:5), as did Moses (Numbers 16:15) and Paul (Acts 15:39, Galatians 1). Paul told Christians to “be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:26-27),” while James teaches his readers “You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for a man’s anger does not bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).” Another key passage about anger, though it never mentions the term, is Ephesians 6:12, which reads “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” James 4:1-3 states:
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is the source not your pleasures that wage war in your body’s parts? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask [fn]with the wrong motives, so that you may spend what you request on your pleasures.”
Synthesizing the truths presented above, we can identify three problems with human anger:
Human anger is often selfish
How often are we angry because we don’t get what we want, or what we think we deserve? People have a deadly sense of entitlement, a feeling that health, wealth, and happiness our rights. If we perceive someone or something as standing in our way, we become indignant and sanctimonious. We think that we are righteous.
In truth, God owes us nothing, and neither does the world He has made. Every breath and every heartbeat is a gift from our Creator, and He expects us to use each for His glory. We don’t “deserve a break today” and don’t need to “have it our way.” If we have food, clothing, and shelter, we should be content (1 Timothy 6:8).
Human anger is often misdirected
Occasionally we grow angry because of genuine wrongdoing. The mass shooter, the serial rapist, and the child abuser deserve ire and just punishment for their actions. However, while our anger burns against the individual, our anger should also burn towards the “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” which use such people. Demons exist and are active in the world, tempting, deceiving, and accusing each one of us. Each individual bears primary responsibility for his own evil. He or she should and will pay a price. However, others who harmed the guilty person or did not hold them to account are responsible for their own actions. To focus all our anger or none of our anger only on one person is usually to misdirect at least part of our ire.
A drunk driver who kills a family in a vehicle accident is responsible for murder and should pay a just penalty. But those who encouraged him to drink to excess, who didn’t help him overcome his addiction, and who didn’t offer to drive him home on that fateful night bear responsibility and will be judged for their omissions and commissions. The demons who tormented him throughout his life face condemnation for their iniquities. Our prayers, which operate directly on the spiritual realm, should be for comfort and justice for the victims, salvation for the sinner and those who aided his sin, and the damnation of the devil and his minions.
Similarly, we should be angry at injustice, but at all injustice, not only those that we choose to notice and that we think we avoid. Humans are always ready to condemn others, but never ready to condemn ourselves. We say that we want justice now, and that “justice delayed is justice denied.” But is justice ever immediate? Isn’t justice always delayed, at least long enough to do an investigation? Do we as individuals want to face pure justice, or do we crave mercy? Are we so without sin that we are willing to “cast the first stone?” When God brings final justice to our world, will we be washed away with the wicked, or will we be saved?
We should strive for righteous anger. However, to ignore the impact of others and the spiritual forces at play in any event is to limit our ability to improve the situation. God will always bring perfect justice in his perfect timing.
Human anger is often too persistent
How many teachers in your life have labeled you a problem? Was it easy to change their minds, or did you struggle all year against that perception? How many bosses have done the same? How many people reject you because of a fight years ago? How many former friends and family members have you rejected for years from just such a fight? Were they angry at you? Were you angry with them? Are you still?
Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven,” which means an unlimited number of times (Matthew 18:21-22). He commands that we make peace with our adversary before going to the altar to sacrifice to God (Matthew 5:23-24). Paul wants Christians, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people (Romans 12:18.” Though our anger burns, followers of Jesus are not allowed to hold on to it. We become angry, act appropriately, and forgive. There is no other way.
Christians not only can control our emotions…we must control them. Our will must reign supreme over our mind and heart, in courage and constancy doing what the Lord commands. Anger, like sadness and fear, is a normal emotion given to us by God. Anytime a man or woman of God feels angry, he or she should beware these three possibilities:
- Am I really just being selfish?
- Is my anger misdirected, at least in part?
- Am I holding on to my anger?
God alone, through prayer, Bible study, enjoying His creation, and praise, can vanquish these problems and heal our hearts. We feel anger and act on it in accordance with the Word of God and the work of the Spirit. As we are faithful to Him, the Lord Jesus Christ helps us to overcome our anger.