7 Tests of Righteous Anger (Part 5): Right Restraint

Billy’s anger had gotten the better of him. He showed up at my office for our regularly scheduled meeting in a cast. He had gotten so frustrated about a situation that he punched a car window…the window won that fight. His broken hand was the realization he needed to conclude that he did not have control over his anger. Righteous anger is controlled anger.

We are often encouraged to express our anger by means of “exhaustion.” The goal is to exhaust our anger, let it all out. Even our illustrations for anger suggest this method of expression. So, the teapot boiling on the stove needs to let off its steam, and it pours it all out with an intense whistle. Likewise, we are encouraged to scream into our pillow. To beat each other with foam bats. To write letters saying everything we can think of to the person we are angry with – without sending that letter. Organizations even exist that will, for a fee, allow you to come into their facility and break things. The key idea is to let out all the rage inside in order to express it in a way that does not harm others. This sort of expression, however, mimics the uncontrolled rage and does nothing to either address the problem or help us develop more healthy responses to our feelings. It actually conditions us to be controlled by anger instead of showing proper restraint. The more I pour out my anger the more I stir it up and feed it. A controlled response will allow me to express my anger but not be ruled by the emotion.

Controlled anger is the moral response in subjection to God’s agenda. Sinful anger, conversely, is governed by our own impulses and desires. It runs hot and fast and tempts to react in ways that, under calmer conditions, you would never act. Do you and that you are often regretting the things you said/did when you become angry? Are you frequently shocked and embarrassed by your behavior when anger is running hot? Have you injured yourself or others during a fit? It is quite likely, then, that your anger is not controlled. Your anger can control you as much in brooding as it does it blow-up. Uncontrollable anger is not always expressed in punching. You can sit stewing, fuming, fussing, and breeding bitterness and find that you are just as much controlled by your anger as the guy who punches car windows is. How controlled is your anger? You may be expressing anger towards the right things and yet still be ruled by that anger.

The Scriptures call us to submit to the Spirit of God, and from that relationship to experience the fruit of self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). This sort of restraint expressing anger rightly by submitting firs and foremost to God’s agenda, and His desires for righteous anger and problem solving. David Powlison keenly writes:

Godly anger is emotion controlled by a purpose imposed on us by the Lord God. It is consistent with those fruits of the Spirit termed self-control, gentleness, and patience…Is your anger controlled by a godly agenda, by confidence in God’s sovereignty, by submission to His purposes? Or is it out of God’s control, unpredictable, vigilante, either abusive or brooding? Is your anger grace-giving or judgmental? (“Anger Part 1: Understanding Anger”, JBC 14:1.51)

In submission to God anger is still expressed. Jesus, Himself, expressed anger. When he cleanses the temple He is expressing an intensity of emotions, emotions that motivate Him to act with aggression – creating a whip and flipping over tables. Yet, Jesus is not out of control. He doesn’t “lose it.” He is controlled by a particular agenda. In John 2:17 the disciples recognize in Jesus what the Old Testament had foretold: zeal for your house will consume me. Jesus is driven, motivated by, and controlled by God’s agenda. His passion is governed by God’s priorities, not His own. Even at this He does not have a fit. He is always in control of Himself, His emotions, and His responses. Jesus models righteous anger for us.

Evaluate your own heart, your own life, and your own actions. How would you describe your anger? Controlled? Governed by God’s agenda? Exercised with restraint? How would other people describe your anger? Would they acknowledge that you express it righteously? That you are in control of your emotions? Or would they say that you seem to be ruled by your anger? How would God judge your angry responses? Would He see that you are in submission to the Spirit of God, that you manifest the fruit of self-control? Righteous anger is controlled anger. How controlled are you?

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