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Six Things to Know about Anger

by Ed Welch

I saw a murderous act the other day. A car was reluctant to turn right on a red light, and the driver in the next car in line was angry. His anger began with a brief honk, then he escalated to laying on the horn, then he yelled curses, then threats, then he floored his gas pedal, swerved around the car in front of him, almost hit two other cars, and, no doubt, would have pulled out a revolver if it was handy.

I was left wondering about his family. A fifteen-second delay at a red light was enough to incite rage. What would happen if dinner was not on the table, or the kids were a little rambunctious, or he didn’t get the desired response when he spoke about the utter fool who destroyed his entire day?

This man’s problem with anger was obvious, but we are not so different. We all experience anger; it is in everybody. So we want not only to become skilled in disarming angry people, we want also to be vigilant with our own hearts. To get us started, here are six things from Scripture that we should know about anger.

1. Anger is sinful
We can be righteously angry, but since righteous indignation identifies such a small fraction of our anger, let’s round off the figures. In other words, we want no tolerance for our own anger. Once we start focusing on exceptions, all of our anger will be identified as an exception. So we can leave those nuances for later (David Powlison’s Good and Angry says more about this).

2. Angry people are blind to their anger
This is frightening: angry people are the last ones to know that they are angry. They are blind, as are all those who hate (1 John 2:11). What angry people are sure of is that the problem lies in the object of their anger, not themselves. The general rule for angry people is that the more extreme the anger, the more confidant they are of their rightness and the more unaware they are of both their anger’s sinful roots and destructive disposition. This makes repentance and change a rare event—if you don’t even see your own anger and you are persuaded you are right, how can you turn from it?

3. Anger has many faces
With blindness always ready to overtake us, we should be alert to anger’s disguises. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus targets our tendency to reconfigure the law so that it condemns others but acquits ourselves. In response, we want to enlarge the law back to its original proportions and be convicted (Matt 5:21-22). This means that everyday grumbling and complaining, seething silence, or any version of turning away from someone in judgment, makes the anger list along with the obvious, hotter versions.

4. Anger is a partnership with the Devil
Anger is specifically linked to Satan. It is a demonic contract that Satan uses to enslave and perpetuate his dominion. Notice how the defensive and accusing postures of anger are the first fruits of our satanic sympathies in the Garden. James later identifies our anger as demonic (James 3:15), and the Apostle Paul agrees, saying it offers an “opportunity to the devil” (Eph 4:26). This helps to dispel the lie that our anger is an acceptable part of everyday life, and certainly makes it clear that anger is not to be trifled with.

5. Jesus was never angry about personal offenses
Watch Jesus as he is being tested and insulted by the religious leaders. He did not respond in anger. Though he is, indeed, angry on a number of occasions, that anger is always about injustices perpetrated against others, especially when those injustices keep others from true worship. He is never angry when he is personally offended. This does not mean that we are to be silent and unmoved when we experience injustice. It does mean that injustices are a time when we need wisdom to guide our responses, and sinful anger will render us fools who are unable to reap “righteousness” (James 3:18) during the inevitable injustices of daily life.

6. God is jealous for angry people
You rarely want to be the target of jealousy because someone will get hurt (Prov 27:4). But there is a stream of jealousy that is rare and beautiful. It says, you are mine and I want you back. Its strategy for getting you back is not reckless rage but pursuing love that has your best interests at heart. This is God’s jealous response to the angry person. In the book of James it says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (4:5). Who would have thought that the angry person would be hotly pursued by the Holy One who invites him or her out of slavery and into his kingdom of peace?

We could say much more—we could list fifty things Scripture says about our anger—but these six things at least remind us that anger is in us and in our churches. Anger might also be the most resistant of all human problems because angry people are enslaved, confident in their right-ness and blind. Humility, gentleness, sadness, even tears and pleading in prayer will be natural features of our pastoral care when anger is present.

RESOURCES ON ANGER

Anger in Church Leadership

 

How to Disarm an Angry Person

 

Practical Steps in Moments of Anger?

 

Good & Angry: An interview with David Powlison

 

Anger at God

 

SIX BASIC STRUGGLES

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