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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

What Does The Bible Say About Anger?

Angry from Microsoft Publisher ClipartI Was Angry

Recently someone did something which made me angry.

It was something they should not have done, which I had asked them not to do, but which they did anyway.

And I was frustrated, bothered, and fuming.  Angry.

So What Is Anger?

I’ve heard people say that anger is just a natural response to pain.

But if anger is natural, then it sounds like it’s OK to be angry.  It sounds like there’s nothing wrong with being angry.

But is that true?

What Does The Bible Say About Anger?

Here’s what Jesus says about anger –

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Mat 5:22)

Whoa.  Notice that word “everyone.”  That includes me.

So my anger deserves God’s judgment.  Which means it’s wrong.

And here’s what Paul says –

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Eph 4:31)

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Col 3:8)

So when I am angry, Paul wants me to put it away — get rid of it — stop being angry.

Which must mean there’s something wrong with my anger.

But why is my anger wrong?

What helped me was to ask –

What Is Anger?

The reason we get angry is because someone has caused us some loss or pain.

Let’s say someone is in the fast lane of the freeway in front of you, putting along at 45.  Why does this make you angry?  It’s because they are taking from you the convenience, pleasure, and freedom of going faster.

Or let’s say someone lies to get promoted instead of you. Why would that make you angry?  It’s because they are taking from you the income, recognition, and satisfaction of being promoted.

See how that works?

Every time we feel anger it’s because someone has caused us some loss.  And when we experience loss, it hurts.  And when we hurt, we want to comfort that hurt, make up for that hurt, satisfy that hurt.

So how can we do that?  We think it’s by getting back at the person who hurt us.

We think that will make us feel better.

And so we –

  • say something insulting like “the gas pedal’s on the right, idiot!”
  • feel bitter towards them
  • slander them to other people
  • have imaginary conversations where we put them in their place
  • give them the silent treatment at work
  • pass them in the right lane, shaking our head
  • sabotage their work

So anger is the desire to satisfy my loss by getting back at the person who hurt me.

That helped me see why anger is sin.

Your Rich Uncle

Imagine you have a rich uncle, who said that if someone ever stole money from you, he would give you ten times the amount that was stolen.  That’s right — ten times.

So then imagine that someone steals $10,000 dollars from you.  That’s a loss.  That hurts.  And so you want to do something to comfort that loss, make up for that loss, and satisfy that loss.

So how can you best do that?  By calling your rich uncle.  Ten times $10,000 dollars is $100,000 dollars.  And when you receive that $100,000 dollars, you would definitely feel comforted.  You’d be at peace.  You’d feel no anger.

You would still feel that what the person did was wrong.  That’s called righteous indignation.  And you could still press charges — not to satisfy your loss by getting back at them, but to uphold justice.

But you would not be angry.

Why Anger Is Sin

Take my anger.  Someone had caused me loss.  It hurt.  Badly.

So I wanted to comfort my loss, make up for my loss, satisfy my loss.

And I have a rich uncle — God my Father.  He has promised that the joy of knowing Him will more than make up for any earthly losses, now and forever  (John 6:35; Rom 8:18; 2Cor 4:17).

But what did I do?  I ignored God, and chose anger.

I tried to satisfy my loss by getting back at the person who hurt me –

  • I thought about how wrong his actions were,
  • I grumbled about him to my wife,
  • I had imaginary conversations with him in my mind.

So can you see why my anger is wrong?  It’s because when I’m angry I’m not trusting God’s promise to satisfy me.  Instead, I’m trusting that I will be most satisfied by getting back at someone else.

So when I’m angry, I’m turning my back on God as my all-satisfying Treasure.

And that’s sin.

How Can I Overcome My Anger?

I’m going to turn my heart back to God, and seek Him.  I’m going to trust Him to comfort my loss with His glory, His majesty, His goodness in Christ.

Lord willing, I’ll let you know how it goes in my next post.

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(Picture is from Microsoft Publisher Clipart.)

Category: Anger, Love, and Forgiveness

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10 Responses

  1. marrie says:

    The fourth point,- ‘Have imaginary conversations where we put them in their place’ made me laugh.

    This teaching speaks what has happened to me in the last two weeks, and its still going on. So, I have been imagining in my mind, (including video imagination of how the whole scenario will be), how God will turn the situation for my good and surprise whoever the culprit is not in a bad way but in a way that will catch them unawares and in a way that will bring glory to God’s name. Is that bad. Remember, i am not angry at them, but I want God to come through for me. I realised I had started feeling angry at the beginning but I confessed and prayed to God to remove the anger but show up in my situation.Is it wrong?

    Marrie

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Marrie –

      You raise some really good questions. I don’t know all the details, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting God to come through for you — as long as it’s not motivated by wanting to bring harm to the culprit.

      I would encourage you to keep fighting to have your heart satisfied in Christ, so the pain the culprit caused you is comforted and healed. That should keep unrighteous anger out of the picture.

      I hope that helps some, Marrie.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  2. Jim says:

    Thank you for your insights; I’m glad to have found this blog, and all the practical, wise insights from a solidly Biblical perspective that does not ignore the need for experiential grace.

    I do feel the need to ask, what about passages that say things like ‘Be angry but do not sin’ or passages where people in the Bible were clearly angry in a righteous way (including Jesus)? Perhaps you can touch on rightful times or places for anger in another post?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for raising such an important questions. Here’s my understanding of righteous indignation — it’s when I feel strongly that what someone has done is wrong, but my heart is so content in the Lord that I have no desire to get back at them to make up for the loss they have caused me.

      The difference between sinful anger and righteous indignation is that sinful anger wants to hurt the person to make up for my loss, but righteous indignation wants justice to be done for the good of others and the glory of God.

      Does that sound right?

      And when Paul says “Be angry, but do not sin,” I do not believe he is commanding us to be angry. I believe the meaning is more like — when you are angry, be sure that you aren’t sinning. Or to paraphrase Eph 4:31, put away everything that would be sinful anger.

      I hope that helps some, and maybe I will write a blog post on that topic sometime. And again, thanks for your question.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  3. Jim says:

    I agree Paul is obviously not commanding us to be angry; I’ve always understood the passage to be addressing the reality that anger (both righteous and unrighteous, as well as perhaps morally neutral kinds of anger?) will arise in us in this life, and that there are ways to respond that may or may not be sinful. i.e. the anger itself, the emotion that arises in us, isn’t always sin, but the way we choose to respond, what we do with it, definitely can be sinful (or not).

    Living life with our emotions fully engaged with life, with a broken, fallen imperfect world full of people who are imperfect and sometimes do extremely hurtful (or outright evil) acts means anger may at times be a natural or even a righteous, healthy emotional response… though this doesn’t automatically mean it should translate into taking action to ‘fix’ the situation a certain way.

    • Jim says:

      What I often find challenging is not jumping hastily to the conclusion that the anger I’m feeling is ‘righteous’. EVEN if it might be in response to someone doing something wrong/hurtful, my understanding is that we’re not to be quick to blame, judge, or point out what someone is doing wrong… all too often my motives may be mixed; I may be doing it out of a sense of self vindication or my own hurts/unresolved issues… which can come out in hurtful ways even if I am in the ‘right’.

      I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this.

      • Steve Fuller says:

        I am right with you in how quickly I can think my anger is righteous. And I agree that most of the time my motives are mixed.

        If someone has done something wrong, it’s right to want justice to be done. But I should long that the punishment be borne not by them, but by Jesus. If I’m longing for it to be borne by them then my anger is probably sinful — motivated by a desire for revenge.

        Thanks for raising such good questions, Jim, and for sharing your wisdom.

        In Christ,

        Steve Fuller

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Well said, Jim. And I agree that we must live life with emotions fully engaged. We must not squelch or stuff our feelings.

      At the same time (as you said) God’s Word does command us to feel some things and not feel others.

      As strange as that sounds, it’s good news. Because it means we can come to God as we really are, admitting and when necessary confessing our feelings, and know that as we pray over His promises the Holy Spirit will change our feelings in His perfect time.

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Him.

  4. Jim says:

    Does the Bible command us to not feel anger?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good question, Jim. I lean towards answering Yes for the following reasons –

      1. In Eph 4:31 Paul has no problem saying “let all bitterness and wrath and anger … be put away from you.” That word “all” makes it sound like there’s no sort of anger or wrath that we ought to feel.

      2. In Col 3:8 Paul commands us to “put them all away: anger, wrath,” etc. Again, here’s a blanket prohibition against anger in general.

      3. In Matt 5:22 Jesus says “that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” Again, a blanket prohibition without any qualifications.

      But then what about Eph 4:26 where Paul says “be angry, and do not sin.” Paul is here quoting from Psa 4:6 — and the Hebrew there *could* be taken as “if you get angry, don’t sin.” Which would mean — immediately discern if your anger is righteous or unrighteous, and deal with it appropriately.

      Otherwise, we’ve got to figure out why in v.26 Paul commands anger while in v.31 he prohibits all anger.

      Then there’s the fact that some anger is righteous. Which the Bible would certainly not prohibit.

      So — it seems to me that there’s two kinds of anger — righteous and unrighteous. Which means that when I find myself angry, I need to check my heart, and put to death any part that’s unrighteous.

      Steve

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