Biblical Help for the Angry Person: Introduction

angry_couple_istock_0000154_620x350Anger is a significant and common threat to us all. We experience it in the car, in the home, and in the workplace. We experience it with people we don’t know, people we can’t stand, and people we deeply love. We experience it in short outbursts and prolonged seasons. We have all sorts of names for it too: frustration, rage, irritation, wrath, resentment, bitterness, hostility, annoyance, and aggravation – to name just a few. But because of the significant impact of anger on our own lives and the lives of those around us it is important that we wrestle Biblically, honestly, and carefully with this emotion.

The Bible tells us that there are two kinds of anger: righteous anger and sinful anger. Knowing the difference can help us to discern the nature of our own angry responses. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians reveals this balance. In verse 26 Paul tells the Ephesians, “Be angry and do not sin.” There is a way, then, to express anger that is not sinful. Yet, Paul warns that there is a kind of anger that is not even to be found among believers. So in verse 31 we read:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

There are variety of angry expression mentioned in this passage, summed up by the phrase “all malice” – that is ill-intent towards another. Paul says, be angry and do not sin, and then specifies the kinds of anger that are sinful. We see these two types of anger expressed throughout the Bible. God, who never sins, expresses anger (Psalm 7:11; Exodus 4:14; Deuteronomy 29:27-28). People, however, often sin in their anger and the testimony of Scripture records this. In Genesis 4 Cain expresses anger and kills his brother. In 1 Samuel 18 Saul expresses anger towards David, and later in chapter 20 towards his own son Jonathan, for being friends with David. In Acts 7:54 the Jewish leaders are “enraged” against Stephen and have him stoned, and in Acts 23:3 we read of the Apostle Paul himself expresses sinful anger, as revealed by his later confession. This is not to suggest that people can never express righteous anger, for Paul exemplifies this in Acts 17:16. Here is “spirit is provoked within him” over the sight of all the idols. The Greek idiom suggests that Paul’s spirit was roused to anger, but it is a good anger, an honorable one.

If there are two kinds of anger, and if one is good and the other bad it is important, then, that we know not simply the difference but how to identify which anger is present. What is it that makes anger righteous or sinful? How can we know? At one level, we will be answering this question throughout the whole of this series, but it is worthwhile to contemplate it in part here in this post. To adjudicate expressions of anger we need to ask one simple question: what is the object of the anger. What we get angry about will help us determine the nature of our anger, its righteousness or sinfulness. Counselor Wayne Mack states:

Our anger is sinful when we become angry for the wrong reasons. In many cases, our anger is aroused because of our selfishness. Selfish anger is always a sin. Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel was a sinfully selfish anger (Genesis 4). Cain had not brought a proper sacrifice to the Lord and when God rejected his offering, Cain became angry with God and jealous of his brother. His anger was caused by his offering being rejected by God – selfishness – and his brother’s offering being accepted – jealousy. When we become angry because someone else is receiving attention or appreciation that we are not, our anger is sinful. If we are honest we will recognize how frequently we get angry for this reason! (Anger & Stress Management God’s Way, 14-15)

The object of our anger is a major determining factor in determining the righteousness of our frustrations. If I am angry about the things that anger God and if my motivations for that anger are right then I may speak of a righteous anger. This, of course, is not the only factor that helps us determine rightness and wrongness of our rage, but it is a basic and fundamental component. We will speak about the other elements of righteous anger in the weeks to come, but we start here by asking ourselves this fundamental question: am I angry for the sake of my own selfish desires or for the sake of the glory of God. Answering such a question is a significant starting place for working through our anger.

It’s easy enough to answer this question with a positive affirmation all the time. After all God hates injustice, hates abuse, hates idolatry and we too should hate such things. Yet we may hate such things for our own selfish reasons, and not primarily because there has been an offense against God, or against justice, or against beauty. We need to honestly evaluate our responses. It is possible for me to hate the arrogance and argumentation of a particular atheist primarily because it makes me look silly, and not primarily because it mocks God. I may hate the way my spouse talks to me, but not primarily because it represents a rift in our relationship of love, but rather because it makes me feel disrespected and I feel I deserve better. Careful consideration of our response and our heart motivations is required for honest, Biblical evaluation of our anger.

Anger will destroy lives. An angry person never believes this until it is too late – if he or she believes it at all. To address our anger we need to start with personal evaluations. Examine our responses and our motivations, our desires and attitudes through the lens of the Scriptures with honesty and carefulness. Biblical help for the angry person starts here, but it does not leave us here. As we will see in coming weeks. If I can start with an honest admission of my guilt I can move towards real hope, real help, and real change.

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