Let us begin by defining what anger is. It is described as the feeling people experience when something unfair, painful or bad happens to them (Cambridge Dictionary-Online). A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility (Google Online). Emotional arousal (Vocabulary.com). I could go on with more sources but all the definitions essentially say the following about anger:
- It is an emotion, like happiness, surprise or sadness.
- It is usually provoked by some negative event. For example, it occurs when we receive or witness unfair treatment, humiliation, surprise, inconvenience, aggression, etc. towards ourselves or people and things we care about.
- It is a strong emotion that can easily lead to other more destructive emotions and behaviors like resentment, hatred, revenge and violence.
Anger is a very common emotion. Everyone becomes angry at one time or another since it is usually the first reaction we seem to experience when facing negative things. For many, however, it is the "go to" emotion whenever things big or small do not go their way. All by itself anger is not a bad thing, it is what anger leads us to do that turns this emotion into a sin.
There are various ways to describe the types of anger that we feel. For example:
- Hasty and Sudden Anger: The impulse when one is threatened or harmed physically or psychologically. A reaction of self-preservation.
- Settled and Deliberate Anger: Reaction to unfair treatment or deliberate harm by another. This is often referred to as righteous indignation or a strong desire for justice.
- Dispositional Anger: Anger as a character trait. A person who is constantly irritable, grouchy and given to having a bad tempter.
- Passive/Agressive Anger: This is anger collected and stored from the small slights and insults that some people feel that others are unconsciously directing at them. Their reaction is to sabotage any effort to have or improve relationships as a way of punishing those who offend them.
The first two types of anger are episodic, meaning that they happen from time to time in response to outside stimuli. The third and fourth are always present as part of one's character (not as a response to outside events, but the normal state of that person despite events). No matter what type of anger or how anger is triggered in you, anger is sinful when it becomes the fuel to say and do things which are wrong or hurtful.
Biblical Examples of Anger Fueling Sin
1Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord." 2Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. 4Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. 6Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." 8Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
- Genesis 4:1-8
Note that Cain's anger flared up as a result of rejection. God let Cain know that his sacrifice was not acceptable. Anger is a legitimate first response to rejection; we are surprised, hurt and offended. The problem for Cain was how he would respond to this rejection beyond his legitimate moment of anger.
In verses 6-7 God tries to help Cain sort out his feelings by pointing to the reason for the rejection of his offering: he has not done well, there is a sin(s) in his life that renders his sacrifice unacceptable. God warns of the danger awaiting him if Cain fails to deal with this sin. In his case, the anger he felt was a sign that there was something wrong in his life, something he needed to change. We are never told what that was. In I John 3:12 the Bible says that Cain's actions were evil, but not what these actions were.
What we do know is that his anger festered and grew into hatred and resentment of his brother, Abel, whose sacrifice and conduct was acceptable. Repressed anger, left to boil, will soon look for and find a way out. That release is usually directed at some innocent soul who is perceived to be the cause of the anger. In Cain's case God tells him that Cain himself is the cause of the rejection and subsequent anger in his heart. Unable to accept or acknowledge this, Cain targets his brother as the cause of his rejection and ultimately kills him.
In Cain's case, God's rejection and discipline led to anger which gave birth to jealousy which, in turn, created resentment, and this festering resentment drove Cain to murder his brother.
1Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there. 2There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. 3The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, "If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!
- Numbers 20:1-3
Here we see another example of anger and what it can lead to. In this story the cause of the anger was frustration. Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt as God performed miracles among and through Moses and Aaron, his brother. The Pharaoh eventually let the people go because the miraculous plagues that God punished his country with were crippling it financially and demoralizing the Egyptian population. Moses, despite the fear, complaining, rebellion and lack of faith or gratitude among the Jews continued leading these people for decades. At one time, he even asked God to take him in death in order to save the Israelites from God's wrath because of their complaints and disobedience.
In this episode the people once again complain because of a lack of water and they give in to self pity asking why God has saved them if it is only to bring them into the desert to die of thirst. Moses goes to God in prayer to ask for help and the Lord tells Moses to take the rod of Aaron and go speak to the rock, and water will come forth to provide for the people. In verses 9-11 we see Moses take the rod, but out of anger caused by his frustration, he first scolds the people and then strikes the rock twice with his rod. The water does comes out of the rock but in doing it in this way (striking the rock instead of merely speaking to it as God had commanded him) Moses sinned:
- He addressed the people in an angry way despite the fact that God had not given him any message to deliver.
- He struck the rock instead of speaking to it which showed his lack of faith. In Exodus 17:6, in a similar situation, Moses was told to strike a rock once with his rod, and water came forth miraculously. In this instance he was told to simply speak to the rock. That he ignored this command and went back to an earlier method to draw water (striking the rock) showed his doubt. The fact that he then struck the rock twice demonstrated his further lack of trust in God's word which, as a great leader, was disrespectful of God before the people.
I do not want to belabor the details of how Moses sinned but rather point out to you the ultimate price paid for this disobedience. After 38 years of leading the people in the wilderness, we learn that Moses himself would not enter the Promised Land. Soon after this his brother, Aaron, would die and Moses would spend the next two years preparing the people and Joshua for their entrance into the Promised Land without him.
In his case, frustration led to anger, and this anger led to a loss of faith which caused his disobedience and its resulting punishment.
David - I Samuel 25:2-42
This passage is too long to add here so I will summarize the story (I do encourage you to read it for yourself, however).
Here we have another example of a person experiencing great anger, but in this story we see David avoiding the negative results of this emotion. This episode takes place before David is crowned king and while he and his ragtag army are on the run from Saul (David had been anointed king in place of King Saul by Samuel the prophet, but not as yet recognized by the people). One of the ways that he was building trust with the people was by providing protection from roving bands of thieves and foreign solders who attacked the helpless farmers and shepherds who lived in the country side, far from the larger cities protected by Saul's troops.
One such person was Nabal, a rich businessman who owned livestock. Throughout the year David's men had protected Nabal's shepherds and herders, and at the end of the season David sent some of his men to collect a portion of the flock in return for his services. Notice Nabal's response and David's reaction:
9When David's young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in David's name; then they waited. 10But Nabal answered David's servants and said, "Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are each breaking away from his master. 11Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?" 12So David's young men retraced their way and went back; and they came and told him according to all these words. 13David said to his men, "Each of you gird on his sword." So each man girded on his sword. And David also girded on his sword, and about four hundred men went up behind David while two hundred stayed with the baggage.
- I Samuel 25:9-13
May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave as much as one male of any who belong to him."
- I Samuel 25:22
So here we see David's anger kindled by a number of things:
- Injustice: he was being denied what was his due.
- Frustration: his work would not yield any of the supplies that he needed for the care of his men and their families.
- Insult: Nabal dismissed his claim to the throne and referred to him as a runaway slave.
Note that he is immediately consumed by his anger and it leads him to seek revenge. The story then changes scenes and describes what Abigail, Nabal's wife, did to save not only her husband and her household, but also prevent David from committing a terrible sin out of anger. She learns of the situation, prepares the needed supplies that were originally denied David's men, and races to meet the young king before he arrives. Let us read part of her appeal to him:
28Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord, and evil will not be found in you all your days. 29Should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30And when the Lord does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, 31this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the Lord deals well with my lord, then remember your maidservant."
- I Samuel 25:28-31
Note how Abigail diffuses the situation. She apologizes and takes responsibility. She brings the supplies in an attempt to make things right. She acknowledges the insult but warns David about the consequences that would result in his hasty revenge (as king he would have the innocent blood of Nabal's workers on his hands). By asking him to remember her when he becomes king, she acknowledges his true position and submits to it.
We know the end of the story: David accepts her gifts and turns away from his plan. Abigail tells her husband what she did and he dies of a heart attack. Later on, we learn that David marries this rich widow and his food supply problem is taken care of. The story of David and Abigail shows how quickly sudden anger and an immediate response to it can lead to disaster. I believe that the modern phenomena of "road rage" works in this way. One minute you are driving to work and the next you are screaming death threats to a stranger who insulted you with the manner of his driving. Heaven help the situation if you or the other driver has a gun in his vehicle.
Actually, Abigail and David's story provides some good lessons about what to do when provoked to anger, because we cannot eliminate anger from our lives. There will always be situations that cause anger in us. Sometimes God is using our anger (like Cain) to get our attention about something; sometimes it is a sign of fatigue, weakness or misunderstanding (Moses); or at other times a temptation to lead us into sin (David). Prayer helps us to see past the emotion to the cause. Asking, "why am I angry?" often takes the fuel out of the fire. When you find yourself angry, therefore, here are a few things to do in order to deal with this powerful emotion:
- Pray: Note that David, the one chosen by God to be king, did not pray or seek God's counsel before strapping on his sword. Our prayers in such situations should not be to ask God to take away our anger, it should be to seek wisdom and understanding as to why we are angry. What is going on here? Help us, Lord, to avoid a foolish or sinful response to our anger.
- Slow Down: Anger usually causes us to act or react quickly, and say or do things we often regret. Slowing down helps us to get control of ourselves (i.e: it was a good thing David had a long ride to get to Nabal's house, it gave him time to cool off). I have found that when possible, I will give something that angered me 24 hours to cool off. I usually see things more clearly then and because of this manage a better reaction. You cannot avoid anger, but you can avoid allowing it to create problems if you put a day between the beginning or your anger and the beginning of your response.
- Stop "Churning": If you have prayed, not about the anger but about the cause, and basically have asked God to help you deal with the offense/frustration/injustice/insult, then let it go, stop churning! Churning butter or ice cream means to stir, to mix and to continually agitate. Once you have identified the issue, person or thing that has caused the anger and decided to respond with kindness, or not at all, or with an explanation etc. stop churning the situation over and over in your mind. I know this is difficult, but churning is what keeps the fire of anger burning inside of us. Anger is an emotional prison and the only escape is to let the fire die out naturally by putting a stop to the churning of the details in our minds. Paul says, "Be angry and sin not, do not let the sun go down on your anger." (Ephesians 4:26). Paul explains that you can be angry without sinning if you do not prolong your anger beyond its time. "Not letting the sun go down" means "for a specific time or season." It is normal to be angry at times, but do not let it go beyond its normal time. To do so will lead to hatred, violence, revenge, resentment, etc. My favorite passage to deal with offense and unkindness/unfairness that stirs anger is Proverbs 19:11, "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression."
Be Your Best Christian Self (BYBCS): The hard part about dealing with anger is how to react to the thing that made us angry in the first place. We could spend a long time on this but the short answer is to be your best Christian self. Reaction to insult? BYBCS. Reaction to unfairness? BYBCS. Reaction to frustration, waste, incompetence, etc.? BYBCS. I have found that whatever sin that is at my door, revealed or prompted by anger, I never have gotten into trouble and often have resolved the issue when I tried to respond by being My Best Christian Self.