Few things destroy people faster or more completely than anger. It crushes those it is unleashed upon and it shatters the person who has gotten angry. It often destroys every kind of relationship and even when forgiveness has been requested and granted, things just don’t seem to be what they were. It destroys relationships, homes, churches, governments, and businesses. Uncontrolled and sinful anger is a terrible, terrible behavior/emotion.
But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. (Num. 11:33)
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, (2 Sam. 12:5)
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Eph. 4:26-27)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Eph. 4:31)
Anger is an emotion, and a subsequent action, that builds on a number of other factors: the person’s overall perspective on life; the person’s understanding of himself; the person’s understanding of the particular situation; how he has been trained to act in various situations; and many more.
There are two types of anger: righteous anger (not sinful) and unrighteous anger (sinful). Here are a few examples from the Bible when anger was not sinful: God gets angry with sinful mankind (Psa 7:11; Ex. 4:14; Deut. 29:27-28). Jesus gets angry with his disciples (Mk. 3:5), and the money changers (Jn. 2:13-17). Paul was angry with the Athenians (Acts 17:16) and told the Ephesians to be angry but not to sin (Eph. 4:26).
Unrighteous anger or sinful anger generally springs up when a perceived injustice occurs. The word “perceived” is where we get into trouble. We sin when we perceive that an injustice has occurred and act on that preconception. And, we believe it is unjust because our pride or self-esteem has been brought into question. But when viewing the situation through the eyes of God, an injustice has, in fact, not occurred. We have sinfully put ourselves into the place of God deciding what is just and what is unjust. Many times . the thing done to us is not an injustice at all.
Righteous anger will have these characteristics: The godly man will 1) Be wise—he’ll see the big picture (Prov. 29:11) and he won’t let his emotions rule him. 2) Analyze the situation—what is going on? What is at the heart of this issue and/or event? 3) Ask, what is my role in this situation? What has God called me to do or be in this instance? 4) Content to let God take vengeance and orchestrate the right punishment of evildoers. He understands that he has not been called to act for God in this instance. And if he has been called, a prison official for instance, he will do his duty with aplomb and trepidation. 5) Constructive in his confrontation with the others involved in the incident (Gal. 6:1; Mt. 7:1-5). 6) Forgiving. 7) Joyfully move on. He will do this even if he hasn’t the opportunity to confront. He has faith that God is faithful to do what God wants done.
Our anger is sinful when it: involves brooding or fretting (Psa. 37 especially verse 8); we keep a running account of wrongs (Lev. 19:18; 1 Cor. 13:5); when we pretend we are not angry; when we justify our anger; when we return evil for evil (Pro. 29:11, 22); when we attack a substitute (Mt. 5:21-22; 1 Sam. 20 Saul went after Jonathan when he was angry with David). This last one includes yelling at a pillow, punching a bag, and yelling at the counselor.
Where Anger Comes From:
Perspective is “the appearance of things in relation to one another…”. Our perspective comes from our understanding of who God is, who we are and who everyone else is, especially in relation to us. Our perspective is governed by what is in our hearts, and our hearts are the center, or the core of our being. What is expressed from our hearts, when things get hot (see the two trees illustration) reveals our perspective. It produces our thoughts, motives, intentions, behaviors, etc. Who we are in our heart is who we actually are and who we are is expressed when things get hot (see the two trees illustration).
In The Theology of Christian Counseling, Jay Adams has this to say about the heart’s involvement in our thoughts and behavior:
In order to help us better understand the biblical meaning of heart, let us ask, “What, then, is set over against the heart, if anything;?” The answer is always, without exception, the visible outer man. Worship that one gives with his lips (outer, visible, audible worship) when his heart (inner, invisible, inaudible) is far from God is a good example of this contrast (Matt. 15:8). We are instructed that man looks on the outward appearance, but (in contrast) “God looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Without multiplying references, it is safe to say that everywhere the Bible uses the word heart to speak of the inner man (or, as Peter puts it in a thoroughly definitive way ‘the hidden person of the heart.’) Plainly, then, heart in the Bible is the inner life that one lives before God and himself; a life that is unknown by others because it is hidden from them (pp. 114-115).
The following are some of the underlying characteristics that come along with anger and their Godly counterparts:
|Apart from God||With God|
|Control (must rule, power)||Faith in God|
|Fear (might be hurt or die)||Trust in God|
|Love (the wrong things)||Love God and love what God has for you|
|Stands for Justice||God will meet out justice|
|Strong Desires (must have)||Rejoice in the Lord|
|Will not discuss any viewpoint other than his||Easy to chat with others|
|Has a worldly focus||Sees things from God’s perspective|
|Has no clue about grace||Full of Grace|
|Provokes others to join him, even against him||Works to maintain the bond of peace|
Help for the Angry Person:
How do you counsel the angry person? The answer to the question depends on the situation. Does he know he has a problem with anger and wants help? Does he know he has a problem and doesn’t want help? Does he know something is wrong, but not what it is? The response to each of these questions would prompt a slightly different direction to take in the counseling process. So let’s assume he knows he has a problem with anger, but gets angry easily. You will want to approach him in a way that reveals his heart to him, but does not fire him up. I suggest that you use the method we taught in the first series of talks.
Why we give homework and what is the goal? We give homework from the Bible so that studying it will reveal that God is God. Your friend needs a new understanding about how he fits into the universe that God has ordained. I often ask people to read Psalm 119 and pay attention to who God is, who the psalmist is and what his situation is, the attitude toward God and his law, and the emotion he displays toward God. The goal here is to have God create a new attitude in the person about who God is, who he is before God, what emotions are all about, and how he should begin to think about others in that context. I have him read passages like Ephesians with special emphasis on 4:26-27. I want the counselee to think about how he might become angry and not sin. I will also point him to 4:31-32 and ask him to think about how he might obey the first part of the passage and fit the second into his life in these particular circumstances. I want him to meet with God in the homework and wrestle with the things God is telling him about anger and love.
Practical Suggestions for the Moment:
What we have been talking about has been aimed at the heart, for permanent change. But there are some things that may need to be addressed for the short and immediate term. For example, the man might be getting angry right now and needs some kind of immediate attention, even if we know that it is only short term solution. The first thing I would suggest is that you begin by telling the man to stop getting angry. Sometimes, “In the Name of Jesus Christ, stop it!” actually works and is helpful. Second, suggest to the man that he keep a journal of the events where he becomes angry. This will allow him to see patterns and traits in his story. Third, he needs to anticipate the times when he is likely to become angry and prepare himself to love the other person instead of becoming angry. Fourth, remind him to take as a matter of faith, that God will take care of the other person, “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Fifth, point out to him that this is a trial, and God is using the trial to make him more godly when he comes through it well (Jas. 1:2-4). Sixth, suggest that in a moment when anger is not an issue, that he discuss the problem with X in a way that builds up X rather than tears X down. Seventh, point out that God puts up with a lot more from him than he has put up with from X, and God does not respond with anger toward him. Finally, remind him to confess his sin and to confess it honestly including that he meant to say and do all those terrible things because he has hatred in his heart,. He knows that it is sin and will never do it again. He needs to do this every time he becomes angry because the more he does it the more he will be convicted of his evil heart and will reach out to God for release and freedom from his passions.
Peeling the Onion:
Generally, particular sins don’t appear all by themselves. Anger is one of those sins. It is almost never alone. Anger comes because of something else hidden behind it. People who get angry are generally full of fear: fear of losing face, losing power, being hurt, and a myriad of other things. All this hides an even deeper self-centered sin—pride, self-idolatry, personal god hood. It also reveals fear that goes deeper than what we see on the surface. Fear that people will discover that he is filled with despair, darkness, loneliness, guilt, and shame.
Sometimes this will all come out if you simply ask, “Why do you get angry when this happens?” Many times you will need to go through the questions regarding individual events. But to really deal with anger, the counselee must go down to the core of his heart and have God cleanse him from his guilt and shame. As God does this, the darkness will lift, the loneliness will go away, the despair will be filled with fullness of purpose. With a new heart the counselee will be able to love others with a real love that is actually concerned with their well-being. There will be no sense of Self involved. God will fill the counselee with joy instead of anger.
Robert Jones, Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help For A Common Problem
Rick Horne, Get Outta My Face!: How to Reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel
Lou Priolo, The Heart of Anger
Peter Wilkes, Overcoming Anger
Wayne Mack, Anger & Stress Management God’s Way