Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dealing with Anger

The wise man wrote “An angry man stirs up strife, And a furious man abounds in transgression” (Proverbs 29:22).    It should come as no surprise that anger and evil are closely related.  How many times have we heard people use anger as an excuse for their actions?   “I just got so angry I just couldn’t control my tongue.”   “I shouldn’t have slammed the door, but I was so mad”      “You make me so furious, I just could not control myself”       Anger is a God-given emotion, and is not of itself sinful.  The scriptures instruct “be angry and do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26).   Thus, while we understand that anger itself is not evil, it also is not a basis or excuse to do evil.   The scriptures clearly show the importance of keeping ourselves from sin, even when we are angry.      Aristotle said “Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”     This is the key!   While there is nothing wrong with the initial feeling of anger, it is vastly important that our anger is justified, properly placed, and managed without sinning.   

Psychologists define anger as “a feeling of tension and hostility, usually caused by anxiety aroused by a perceived threat to one's self, possessions, rights, or values” (
Saunders, 2003).      Like heat, anger has degrees.    It helps us to properly understand anger and how to manage it appropriately, when we can define these degrees.  June Hunt gives the following degrees of anger.

            Indignationsimmering anger proved by something unjust and often perceived as justified. 
                Wrathburning anger accompanied by a desire to avenge
                Fury – fiery anger so fierce that it destroys common sense
Rageblazing anger resulting in loss of self-control, often to the extreme of violence and [possibly]     temporary insanity (Hunt, 2008)
These degrees generally build off of the next.  A general rule is that people do not fly off into fits of rage as a first response when a perceived need or expectation is not met.   If such seems to be the case, there is likely another, more deeply-seated cause for the anger.   It is crucial that we deal with the true cause of anger if we are to manage it effectively.  
As earlier noted, anger is not sinful.  The initial feeling of anger is merely an emotion that is a God-given response to circumstances around about us.    That is why the scriptures show us clearly that we should not allow anger to give us reason to sin.  “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).  The key is to seek a resolution for the feeling promptly, so that it is not harbored to the point that it becomes resentment.    Harboring anger can have negative affects upon your personal life, work relationships, home life, etc.   Thus, as the inspired apostle notes “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”    Resolve it quickly!

In seeking a resolution, it may be that we were wrong in our feeling and/or response to the situation.   The common, but completely wrong, way of considering anger says “I feel that I was wronged based upon my perception of fairness and what I have determined is right.  I have the right to be angry, and to express that anger in whatever way is natural to me.”      This is how most people, including Christians, feel even if they will not admit it.    Yet the scriptures paint quite a different picture regarding how we should respond to feelings of anger.  Peter wrote “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).   “The Message” renders it this way:
I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.
We might understand it as it relates to anger like this.   “Because God rules over me, and I have submitted myself to his will, I will view these human disappointments as opportunities for growth in the Lord.   I will not use anger as a basis for sin, nor will I be controlled by it.  I will rather use it as an opportunity to, in faithfulness; behave in ways that are pleasing to God. ”   This is how anger should be viewed by the child of God.  It is often more difficult to do that it is to say, however.   
Often we allow our anger to serve as an excuse for our actions (or overreactions).    We allow past anger to become deep seated, and we allow those around about us to bear the brunt of our wrath.   This, while a common response even among Christians, is in truth an affront to a holy and righteous God.  Further it does not allow us to grow in the faith in the midst of such trials.    
How is it then that we should manage the feelings of anger that we experience?    You should first determine if the source of your anger is deep-seated, unresolved, resentment from some past event(s). In order to do this, you need to consider the reason for your anger.   This may mean honestly looking at yourself and realizing that you are harboring resentment. So often we can easily see this in others, but overlook it in ourselves.     When you do this and you pin-point the initial cause of the anger, you will be well on your way to bringing an end to the destructive actions   that emanate from the anger.    David  penned these words “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting”  (Psalm 139:23-24).      It is only by following the everlasting way, that those “wicked ways” that are within us can be removed.     When a person becomes a Christian, he becomes a “new creature” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17).  It is by following the word of God that our mind is renewed (cf. Romans 12:3), when we make application of the eternal principles of the gospel, we can overcome these sins that seek to take us captive.   It is through our understanding and application of God’s word that we can put these things away from us.    To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31).    These things have no place in the life of the faithful child of God.   We must make the choice to put them away.  

Even if we do not harbor resentment or malice, we still will have feelings of anger from time to time.   It is also important to know how to manage these feelings in order that we do not sin.  One thing that some people do is bottle up their anger, and do not properly express it.   They may not even admit that they are experiencing the emotion.   This is not helpful.   If something angers us, this is not sinful.   We must insure that we do not allow it to be an excuse for sin.  Again, though, you must consider the source of your anger.  What is it that is making you angry?    Then, honestly look at why it is making you angry.   Are you expecting others to meet your standards?   (ex. “Doesn’t she realize that I work all day and expect quiet when I get home?”)    Do you distort the issue?  (ex. Do you generalize by saying things like “ you never …” or  “You always…” ?).    Perhaps you are using anger as a means to have some inner needs met.    Do you use anger to manipulate those around about you?   Do you have explosive outbursts to give yourself a feeling of significance?    Do you use controlling anger by demanding certain conditions of those around you so that you feel secure (Hunt, 2008)?    Anger is not a means to have needs met.   Using it in that way will have disastrous effects upon your life.   Your marriage life will likely be strained; children may be provoked to wrath (cf. Ephesians 6:4), and your home could be characterized by folks “walking on eggshells,” and ruled by fear, rather than one of nurture and love.   

The way to combat this is to trust in God and his word.   Peter said “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).    The Lord has given us what we need to ensure that our needs are met. Rather than seeking to control or manipulate those around about you in order to give the perception of  the need being met,  learn to follow God’s plan and trust his will that you will be much happier because your needs will truly be met. 
 One way that we can do this is to consider Paul’s instruction to the Philippians: 
 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:3-8).
The primary reason for sin associated with anger comes from an attitude of selfishness.   The remedy is that we do not think of ourselves first, but we consider the feelings and needs of others before our own.  We look out for their interests.   As an example, Paul uses Christ who came from heaven in humility  and gave up the glory associated with his deity, in order that you and I might be partakers in his sacrifice.    Can we not let the same mind be in us?   So what if we are “wronged.”    The proper response is not to seek to control others or to manipulate them, but rather to look to their needs and interests before our own as Christ did.
 When we experience anger we should assess the reason for the feeling.  Is it really justified, or is it a result of a violation my own standard?    What response will be beneficial to the situation?   Is the issue so important that it needs to be addressed?   Will you, by addressing it, be able to change it? If not, there is no need to openly express your anger.      If it does require a response, choose your words carefully, and consider the long-term implications that they may have.  Also, do not automatically assume that the other person is wrong, there may be circumstances that you do not know which brought on the issue.  Solomon said “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).      Even if you are in the right, and the other person is in the wrong how much harm can be done if we are unyielding, and cruel?   What good is done by saying things that you will regret?      Paul encouraged the Philippians “ let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you know how to answer each one”  (Colossians 4:16). 
It is true that anger is not sinful, but it also is not a basis or excuse for sin.  It is wrong for the child of God to harbor malice and resentment, thus we must seek to resolve issues of anger both appropriately and in a timely manner.   “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth…since you have put off the old man with his deeds” (Colossians 3:8-9). 

Hunt, June.   (2008).  “Counseling Through Your Bible Handbook.”  Eugene. 51,55.

Sanders.  (2003). Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health,
Seventh Edition.  Retrieved from

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