Anger. We all experience it at some point in our lives. Most of us are moved about like pawns at the hands of anger, rather than learning to control it. Is anger always a sin? Can we really learn to control anger? What is at the root of the anger we feel? The Bible gives us some clear guidance on the subject of anger.
The word anger or a form of it appears many times in the Bible, and it is important to note that several of the instances are talking about God being angry at His people for their stiff-necked, selfish natures. Over and over we see stories of the Israelites willfully sinning before God and Gods anger against them. But because we see God getting angry, we can be assured, then, that anger is not always a sin. In fact, we can conclude that anger over sin is a holy and righteous response because God is always holy and righteous.
If we look at Ephesians 4:26, we read, In your anger do not sin. Notice how this is phrased. It is not a commandment that we must not be angry, but it acknowledges that there will be times we can be angry and yet not be sinning. James confirms this concept when he tells us in 1:19, My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Again, we see that there is no command that says, Do not be angry, but only a warning against anger that flares up quickly.
James continues on in verse 20 to give us a reason for his words: for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. It appears then, that there are two types of anger -- Gods type of anger, which brings about a righteous life and mans anger, which does not. The key in rightly handling anger is to be able to distinguish between these two types and the root causes of them both.
As we examine the situations in the Old Testament where we see Gods anger flaring up, it always occurs when people have sinned. God, in His holiness, cannot tolerate sin. Sin is an offense against God or against His creation. Imagine a painter who has spent months perfecting his skill and designing the perfect painting. And then imagine that someone comes along and destroys that painting, on purpose, in front of the artist. What the artist meant for good, someone used to do evil.
This is similar to Gods point of view with our sin. He gave us so many good things, but when we twist them and misuse them, hurting ourselves and others in the process, our Creator is angered. Through this, we can see that Gods anger comes when He watches us purposely destroy the beauty of His creation and what He intended us to be through our own willful sin.
Is it sinful then to be angered at the idea that abortion takes innocent lives every minute of every day? Is it sinful then to be angered at a husband who chooses to use his wife as a punching bag? Is it sinful then to be angered at an abuser who chooses to use an innocent child for his own pleasure? No! This is the exact type of anger God has at our sin, when we make choices that inevitably hurt others or ourselves. This is the type of anger that we should have, the type of anger that motivates us to protect the innocent. This type of anger spurs us on towards justice for others!
The majority of the anger we experience, however, is not godly anger. Most of our anger comes from a completely different root source and is focused in a completely different direction. The anger we experience on an almost daily basis is rooted in the foundation for all sin, pride.
If you are one who struggles with anger, what you are about to read will most likely make you even angrier. But I ask you to see what I am saying and ask God if it is true and how He can use it in your life.
Have you ever noticed that when you are in the biggest hurry, the traffic around you seems to move the slowest? Why cant that guy use his turn signal?! Why cant that lady move over to the other lane if shes going to drive that slow?! Why did my husband have to yell at me today, as if he didnt know everything Ive had to go through with the kids?!
Look at each of these examples. Because you are in a hurry, the traffic appears to be going slowly. Do you really believe that there is a grand conspiracy out there to keep you from getting to work on time this morning? No. The traffic only appears to be going slowly because they are not moving as quickly as you would like them to be. It is only your perspective that makes them appear to be moving more slowly than usual. In other words, you are not happy with the way other people are doing things, so you get angry at them.
And this is the key to dealing with anger, realizing that anger comes when those around us are not doing things the way we would like them to be doing it. Our husband didnt put his clothes in the hamper like we want him to do. Our wife didnt cook the food just the way we thought it should be done. Our children didnt pick up their room the way we wanted them to do it. We even get angry at ourselves many times (this is often called self-contempt) and we find that even we cannot live up to our own standards of behavior.
Actually, if you look closely, you can see this as a desire in us to control those around us and their behavior, to make the world conform to what our ideal is. That is why I said before that the root of mans anger is pride. Pride says that we know what is best, the best way to act, the best things to say, the best way to be, and when people dont live up to our ideal of perfect, then we get angry. We declare that we have a right to be angry at those incompetent bumblers who dont do things the way we know they should be done. A proud heart believes that its own way of doing things is the standard by which all should be measured.
Something to think about: a humble heart can never be sinfully angry. Can you see a genuinely humble heart getting angry in the situations above? Would someone who was a person filled with humility ever get angry at someone cutting them off in traffic? No. The two do not go together. Humility and mans anger cannot go hand in hand. They are indeed opposites -- because mans anger is rooted in pride and pride is the opposite of humility.
So the question now becomes, what exactly do we do when we start feeling anger welling up inside of us? The first thing to do is to evaluate the focus of the anger. Is the anger over someone else or over our own self? Then we must determine whether the anger is because of a true transgression of Gods laws (for instance, when someone abuses a child) or if it is a transgression against our own self-made laws. Are we angry because someone is just not doing things the way we think they ought to be done? Most of the time, this is what we will see; our own selfish goals are being thwarted by someone else and we do not like it.
Lets take a look at James 4:1-3. What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. The fighting and quarrels happen because we believe that we deserve something (our desires), and someone else (or even ourselves!) is keeping us from getting that. Sounds a bit like a little child who doesnt get the candy they want and proceeds to throw a temper tantrum to try to get their desires met.
Many of us adults try to do the same thing. We believe that we deserve to have a quick drive to work since we got up late and are in a hurry. When we dont get what we want: we swear; we steam; we punch something. Basically, we throw a temper tantrum to show how angry we are that our desires are not being achieved. We get mad at those around us because they are not driving the way we want them to or the way we, in our wisdom, think they should be driving.
Perhaps one of the best ways for a Christian to defuse their anger is to stop themselves and ask, Why should I be so upset about someone not doing things my way when it is Gods way that counts? You see, when we measure other peoples behavior according to our standards, they will always fall short. Nobody can ever live up perfectly to our expectations (including our own selves!). This is precisely the yeast of the Pharisees that Jesus warned His disciples about. The Pharisees were trying to make people live up to their own standards of behavior and not the standards God Himself had laid down.
Notice the difference in the attitude of someone who measures other peoples behaviors by what they themselves think is right (full of pride) and the person who measures other peoples behaviors (including their own) by Gods standards (full of humility). When we measure peoples behaviors up to our own ideal, then we are in essence setting ourselves up as gods, saying that our rules supercede those of the Almighty, that we have higher standards than He does. Nobody will ever please us and fully live up to our standards -- and that includes our own selves (but often we are too proud to acknowledge how we ourselves have fallen short of our own standards -- this is what Jesus talked about when He said we could see the specks in everyone elses eyes, but not the logs in our own, Matt. 7:3-5).
But a person who measures all behavior according to Gods standards will realize that he is on an equal footing with every other human being. All of our behavior falls short of the glory of God, and it is only by the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for us that we can ever pay for our shortcomings. No one is worse or better in Gods eyes, but we all have turned to our own way: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way. Isaiah 53:6
It is important for us to take steps, moment by moment, in our lives to see others through Gods eyes, and not through our own. Let us also remember to see ourselves as equally guilty of not living up to Gods standards and as equally deserving of Gods anger. And then let us remember how God has given us His mercy, even though we deserved anger, and let us turn that same gracious attitude towards those who would transgress against the standards we want to cling to.
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:2
Will you use Gods standard to measure the behavior of others? Or will you use your own? Be very careful what you choose because that is the same standard God will use to measure you. Can you live up to the high standard you impose on others? Or are you humbly encouraging them to live up to Gods standard and accepting their desire to help you live up to that same standard?
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