How Can You Express Anger in a Godly Way?
- Dolores Smyth Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 27 Sep
I read something recently on social media that stuck with me. The post read that “if women were allowed to get mad and men were allowed to get sad, we’d all be happier overall.”
As a woman and mother of two girls, the part of that observation that stood out for me was that women need to be “allowed” to get mad.
I wondered who it is that women feel isn’t allowing us to get mad and expects us, instead, to be all-tolerating doormats?
If it’s someone in our lives who gets disappointed when we get mad, then may the Lord send us the strength to rework our boundaries and/or associations. But, if we think it is God we’d offend by expressing anger, then Scripture’s instruction to “be angry but do not sin” shows us that, indeed, we are allowed to show anger (Ephesians 4:26 ESV).
However, we’re to express our anger only in reaction to an actual sin and only in a godly manner.
What Does the Bible Say about Anger?
Righteous Anger Is Permissible
The Bible shows us that acting in anger is acceptable (i.e. not sinful) when our anger is rooted in righteousness. To be “righteous” means to be just and act in accordance with divine law.
Anger is righteous when it arises from our indignation at witnessing an offense against God or His Word. Scripture gives us several examples of this “righteous indignation.” What each of these examples below has in common is that the righteous anger displayed is provoked not by a personal slight but by an injustice against God or His Divine Law.
Moses’s Righteous Anger
Moses showed his righteous indignation at the Israelites during their journey in the wilderness. Specifically, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses spent periods of time atop Mount Sinai seeking further instruction from God.
During one of these especially long periods away, the Israelites in the camp below grew tired of waiting for Moses and built a golden calf to worship. When Moses finally descended the mountain to present the Israelites with the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, he saw the Israelites committing idolatry by worshipping the golden calf.
In a fit of rage, Moses smashed the stone tablets and destroyed the idol (Exodus 24:18; 32:1-19).
Moses’s anger here was based in righteous indignation at the people’s offense against God in worshiping a false idol. Moses’s anger was not grounded in mere prideful frustration that the Israelites hadn’t waited for him more patiently.
In fact, we see Moses’s selfless nature when, in a later attempt to atone for the Israelites’ disobedience, Moses offers his own life in exchange for theirs (Exodus 32:31-32).
Jesus’s Righteous Anger
Jesus showed us what righteous anger looks like, as well. In fact, one of the most vivid scenes in Scripture shows Jesus angrily cleansing the Temple (John 2:13-18).
In that passage, Jesus went to the Holy Temple and saw how the Jews had turned the sacred Temple area into a marketplace. Moneychangers had stationed their tables in the Temple courts to charge the faithful fees to purchase “acceptable” animals to be sacrificed at the Temple.
Jesus became so indignant at the financial greed He saw in the Temple courts that he drove the people out with a whip he had made out of cords. He further drove out the animals, scattered the coins of the money changers, and overturned their tables.
The purpose of Jesus’s anger in cleansing the Temple was two-fold. First, His anger served to uphold reverence for God’s Temple as a sacred sanctuary of prayer (Isaiah 56:7).
Second, His anger served as a warning to those around Him that they were not to use the holy Temple grounds for their own greed or financial gain.
God’s Righteous Anger
God Himself also shows anger at His creation but always in the name of justice. Scripture tells us that God is a righteous judge who becomes indignant at the world’s injustices daily (Psalm 7:11).
One instance of God’s righteous anger that even nonbelievers know is the righteous anger God displayed in punishing Adam and Eve for their disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:16-19).
God also showed His righteous indignation in the devastation of the Great Flood. At that time, the Bible tells us that every inclination of the human heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
How Can You Distinguish between Righteous Anger and Sinful Anger?
If Scripture allows us to express anger but only when it’s righteous anger, how are we to know when our anger is led by the Holy Spirit or when it’s steeped in sin? Figuring this out requires an honest assessment of what’s behind our anger. We must first discern whether our anger stems from an offense that God Himself would be angry at or an offense that merely angers us personally.
In other words, the question to ask ourselves is: Are we angry at something that violates God’s laws or that only offends me?
In particular, if the wrongful behavior (including ours!) at issue profanes God or violates His Word, then our anger is righteous in that it’s provoked by behavior that God has told us is sinful.
If the behavior at issue doesn’t violate God’s Word but merely irritates us, then our anger is rooted in our selfish human nature to rage over personal slights while showing indifference to devastating human injustices.
For example, you may be angry that someone you know ignored you or you may be angry that you got passed over for a promotion. Neither of these instances offends God Himself or violates a God-given law.
As such, acting in anger in these instances would be sinful because it’s rooted in your desire to vindicate your own wounded ego, not vindicate any offense to God. Therefore, instead of reacting to these situations with unrighteous, petty anger, Scripture directs you to turn away from anger with a gentle answer (Proverbs 15:1).
What Makes God Angry?
As Christians, we strive to honor God by being “good and faithful servants” who spread the Gospel, bring others to Christ, and treat others the way we’d want to be treated. (Matthew 25:23; 28:19-20; 22:37-40).
As God’s children and our brothers’ keepers, therefore, we’re to get angry at behavior that would anger our Father:
- God’s righteous anger is triggered when we profane Him or become servants to something other than Him, whether a false god, money, or pursuing our own desires (Exodus 20:3-4).
- In addition, God detests when we harm His Creation, including when that harm involves:
- Not honoring the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8)
- Arrogance (Proverbs 6:17)
- The sowing of discord between people (Proverbs 6:19)
How Can We Express our Righteous Anger in a Godly Way?
To maintain healthy boundaries with those around us, we’re to rebuke our brother for his unbiblical transgressions rather than turn a blind eye and silently simmer in resentment over his sin. Actively rebuking Biblical wrongdoing upholds God’s Word, keeps our brother from falling astray, and keeps us from sharing in his guilt (Leviticus 19:17).
Moreover, we mustn’t compound our brother’s sin by acting vengefully, since vengeance is His to enact (Romans 12:19). Instead, we’re to focus on rebuking the sin, not the sinner. In condemning the sin, we’re to respectfully confront the person sinning and warn them of what the Bible says about their transgressions (1 Timothy 5:20; Galatians 6:1).
In our home lives, there are times we should express righteous indignation when, for example, our child disrespects us. In that instance, our child’s behavior is first and foremost a sin against God because it disobeys His Commandment to honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12).
Although our child’s disrespect will certainly anger us, our anger rises to the level of righteousness when it stems primarily from our indignation that our child sinned against God. It’s then incumbent upon us as parents to remind our child why his behavior is sinful in the eyes of God, not just ours (Proverbs 22:6).
On a much broader scale, any social injustice that is an abomination to God should incite our righteous indignation, such as abortion and the mistreatment of refugees and the poor (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 25:40-45).
You may hesitate to express your righteous anger at someone you see profaning God or the Bible, especially if you’re a nonconfrontational person.
However, it may prompt you to act if you keep in mind that in, those instances, the reputation at issue when God is disobeyed is the Lord’s, not yours.
Moreover, the reward is great for those who help usher a lost sheep back to the flock, for God promises that “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
Dolores Smyth writes on faith and families. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can follow her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.
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