It was the fictional David Banner who matter-of-factly stated, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Anger was what triggered Banner’s transformation into the Incredible Hulk. Indeed, Dr. Banner, you are a bit hard to like when you’re angry!
Anger is a human emotion that every single person experiences. Some are more prone to externalize it by blowing up while others are more prone to internalize it by clamming up, but before I address how to handle anger biblically (I’ll do that in a subsequent post), it’s important to first understand what the Bible has to say about anger itself.
1) Anger is a powerful emotion that can lead to great evil.
One need not turn far into Scripture to see this truth demonstrated. We find it right there in Genesis 4 in the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. After God had no regard for his offer but did for Abel’s, Cain became very angry (Gen 4:5). God then warned Cain about the potential danger of anger, but the fuse, so to speak, had already been lit. Cain was set to explode, and his target was his brother, whom he soon murdered.
Just a few chapter later, we see anger again leading to the desire to murder. In Genesis 27 after Jacob had stolen the blessing from Esau, we read this, “So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob,'” (Genesis 27:41). Esau didn’t get the chance at that moment because Jacob quickly got out of Dodge, but if Esau could have, his anger would have likely led to Jacob’s murder.
Even unintentional murder can happen when anger is let loose. Just a few Saturday’s ago, a 17yo boy in Utah punched his soccer referee in the face after the referee gave him a yellow card (read the story here). One week later, the referee was dead from the punch, which caused swelling and bleeding of the brain. I’m sure that boy regrets handling his anger in that way and would give almost anything in the world to have that moment back.
All three examples simply go to show that anger is a powerful emotion that can lead to great evil. Therefore, we must be careful with our anger.
2) Anger is not inherently sinful.
At first glance, we may form the idea that all anger is bad and sinful. However, when we come to the pages of Scripture we see that that’s just not the case. God has clearly revealed to us that He cannot sin. He is perfect in holiness (Isa 6:1-3) and has no darkness in Him (1 Jn 1:5). Couple that with the fact that the Bible, as translated in the KJV, tells us that God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps 7:11). We even see Jesus, who was God in the flesh, overturning money changer’s tables and dove seller’s seats in the temple and driving them out because they were making God’s house a den for robbers (Mk 11:15-18). You cannot carry out such actions dispassionately. It was surely the emotion of anger that fueled Him to act thus. So, God shows anger, but since God is sinless, it must not be inherently sinful to be angry.
Yes, that’s reasoning from Scripture, but the Scripture is more explicit. We are clearly told that we can get angry but cannot sin in our anger (Eph 4:26 quoting Ps 4:4). So, there we see the distinction. One can certainly be sinful with their anger, but one can also be righteous with their anger. Therefore, it’s not that we must avoid anger altogether. We must avoid unrighteous anger.
You and I must distinguish and discern the difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. Below is a chart from Grace Tabernacle Bible Church that will help you do just that.
|Deep-seated, determined and settled conviction.
||Outward boiling-over rage or inward seething resentment.
|Demonstrated when God does not get what He wants (Psm. 7:11).
||Demonstrated when I do not get what my flesh wants (Gal. 5:20).
|Motivated by a love for God (Job. 32:2).
||Motivated by a love for self (1 Ki. 21:4; 2 Ki. 5:12).
|Commended by God (Eph. 4:26; Jon. 4:4).
||Condemned by God (Eph. 4:31).
|Sin (of omission) when it is not exercised.
||Sin (of commission) when it is exercised.
|Demonstrates righteousness (Zeph. 2:3), specifically holiness (Ez 43:8).
||Demonstrates unrighteousness (Jas. 1:19-20), specifically murder (Mt. 5:21-22).
|Shows my Lord to be Christ.
||Shows my lord to be self.
|Occurs when God’s will is violated (Dt. 9:16-17)
||Occurs when my will is violated (Nu. 24:10; Dan. 3:13).
|Rooted in a zeal for God’s glory (Dt. 7:4; 32:16, 21; 2 Ki. 21:6, 15; 22:17).
||Rooted in a zeal for personal glory (Est. 5:9).
|Imitates godly examples (Jesus-Mk. 3:5; Paul-Ac. 17:16; Moses-Ex. 11:8; 32:19).
||Imitates ungodly examples (Cain-Gen. 4:5-12; Saul-1 Sa. 20:30-33; Herod-Mt. 2:16).
|Produced by the Holy Spirit (Jud. 14:19).
||Produced by the flesh (Gal. 5:19-20).
|Demonstrates self-control, patience, goodness (Gal. 5:22-23) and wisdom.
||Demonstrates the absence of self-control, patience, goodness (Gal. 5:19-21) and wisdom (Pr. 29:11; Ecc. 7:9; Jas. 3:13-18).
|Leads to favor from God, increased Christian maturity, deeper assurance, joy, eternal rewards and other righteous actions (i.e. prayer, evangelism, financial support, bold articulate stance for the truth, service).
||Leads to other sins (Pr. 29:22; Psm. 37:8) such as bitterness, stubbornness, hate, refusing to communicate, rebellion, self-pity, withdrawal, sulking, critical spirit, vengeance, unwholesome words and rejoicing in another’s misfortune.
|Improves our relationship with God.
||Destroys our relationship with God (Gen 49:7) and others (Pr. 30:33).
|Imitates God (Eph. 5:1), shows evidence of salvation (Eph. 5:9; Phil. 1:11) and increases unity in the church (Phil. 2:2).
||Grieves the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:20), gives Satan an opportunity (Eph. 4:27), promotes sin (Gen. 4:5-7), destroys one’s testimony (Phil. 2:14-15) and disrupts unity in the church (Eph. 4:3).
|Seeks to please God (Psm. 119:53).
||Seeks to please self.
|Must be “put on” (Eph. 4:24).
||Must be “put off” (Eph. 4:31).
|Brings God’s pleasure (Isa. 13:3).
||Brings God’s wrath (Col. 3:6).
|Practice reveals my future is heaven.
||Practice reveals my future is hell (Gal. 5:20-21; Mt. 5:22).
What a helpful chart because it helps us clearly see the difference! So, anger is not inherently sinful. Only unrighteous anger is.
3. Unrighteous anger leads to trouble for the one angry.
We must avoid unrighteous anger because of the great consequences that come with it. Scripture tells us that unrighteous anger:
- brings a penalty (Pro 19:19),
- causes people to avoid you (Pro 22:24-25),
- stirs up strife (Pro 30:33),
- doesn’t achieve the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20),
- is fruit of the sinful flesh, disqualifying a person from inheriting the kingdom of God (Gal 5:19-21), and
- is deserving of Hell (Mt 5:21-22).
Unrighteous anger carries a great punishment for the one angry both in this age and the age to come.
As a human made in the image of God, anger is simply part of who we are, and as a fallen human gnarled by sin, our anger is broken. We very easily cross that line from righteous anger into unrighteous anger, and great sin is possible. Keep all that in mind the next time you feel that green, hulkular monster begin to grow inside of you!