A Biblical Theology of Anger
by Dan Tsouloufis
Regarding a biblical definition of anger, one helpful definition is from Robert Jones in his book Uprooting Anger: “Anger is the whole person’s active response of negative moral judgment against a perceived evil.” A brief way to summarize anger is that it is a displeasure in our soul. God created us to have energy with our anger. Yet in our sin, we use that energy in unhealthy and harmful ways. As such, anger is an energy that we must control.
Anger can manifest itself in both the inner and outer man. In the inner man, anger is bottled up and internalized, where one becomes irritable and tense, which can include physical manifestations (e.g. headaches, ulcers, stomach issues). Excessive amounts of angry energy can be harmful to one’s health if gone unchecked. In the outer man, such anger is manifested in outbursts of rage that seem uncontrollable in the moment. The angry person’s problems become intensified and multiplied because they are not using the energy the way God intended, which is self-controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit. It is one thing to get angry, but one should release that energy in a self-controlled way toward a solution to the problem. Therefore, it is what we do with our energy that matters. God gave it to us for a reason.
Regarding the biblical factors that drive anger, in the book of James (chapter 4), James gives us four reasons in the first three verses: 1) our passions/desires that are battling within us; 2) our unmet desires; 3) our idols in our heart; and 4) our wrong/selfish motives. In response, James offers a rebuke: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (James 4:4). This rebuke is an allusion to covenant unfaithfulness, as depicted in Hosea 3:1. Clearly, anger is a heart issue, since the heart is the control center for all of life (Prov. 4:23). Another passage to consider is Luke 6:45, where Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” As Jesus makes clear, we get angry because we have anger in our heart. This is something we need to take ownership of when we carelessly lash out at someone.
It is important that we correctly distinguish between righteous anger and unrighteous anger. Righteous anger is motivated by what makes God angry – by the sin that dishonors God and hurts others. Jesus got upset by false teachers; therefore we too can be upset by false teachers and those who lead others astray. Righteous anger is aroused when anger is expressed in a way that is consistent with God’s character and purpose. Mercy and patience are also ways that God expresses His anger, so we should seek to model that as well. Righteous anger cares about the things God cares about, and in this way it accomplishes the purposes of God. In contrast, anger that is unrighteous is motivated by selfish desires, such as when we don’t get what we think we deserve. Unrighteous anger is a spiritual problem, not just an emotional problem. Thus, we must learn to release our anger in a godly way.
Regarding some biblical strategies to respond to anger, first, we need to learn to yield our rights and expectations to God. This is critical if we’re to have a biblical perspective on what we actually deserve in light of God’s grace and mercy. According to James 1:17, “every good and perfect gift” is from God. As such, these gifts are given to us; we do not inherently deserve them.
Second, it is helpful to memorize the “5 Rules of Biblical Communication” as well as learn essential conflict resolution skills.
Third, it is helpful to have an anger management plan. This shows a willingness to deal with one’s anger and have accountability for it.
Fourth, it is helpful to identify (and tear down) idols of the heart. As James 4:2 says, “You desire but do not have…You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” Such idols that cause us to covet and sin in our anger need to be rooted out, since they are poisonous to our soul.
Fifth, we must realize that we can’t accomplish things in anger that God says we can never do. Again, James says, “anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20). In Titus 3:2, Paul advises Titus to remind the people “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” This is certainly a good rule of thumb to practice in all personal interactions.
Sixth, and last, it is important, as Paul says, to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). This is a critical strategy for dealing with our thoughts (especially our angry thoughts), since what we do with our thoughts in that moment will influence our subsequent actions and behavior.
To conclude, James warned that “the tongue is also a fire” (James 3:6) and “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). And Peter warned us: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing…Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech” (1 Pet. 3:9-10).
Be First to Comment