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Understanding and Redeeming Anger

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Unless you live on a deserted island all by yourself, you understand that anger is a hugely important topic. Child abuse, conflict in the home, divorce, broken relationships, road rage, and much more are the result of sinful anger. These sinful expressions of anger are not just the problem of people who don’t know God, even Christians must wrestle with the issue of anger.

 In short, if we are honest with ourselves, we all have to learn to redeem our anger.  The question is how?

Before we discuss how to redeem our anger, let’s first define what we mean by anger. Webster’s dictionary defines anger as, “A strong passion or emotion of displeasure or antagonism, excited by a real or supposed injury or insult to one's self or others, or by the intent to do such injury.” 

 David Powlison, who wrote a very helpful series of articles on anger starting in the Fall of 1995 in The Journal of Biblical Counseling, summarized anger this way, “I want my way and not God’s, and because I can’t have my way, I rage.”

If we are going to overcome sinful anger we must first understand what the Bible says about anger.  We will look at 4 things the Bible has to say about anger: it’s destructive power; it’s basic goodness; how it goes wrong; and how it can be redeemed (adapted from a sermon by Tim Keller).

Anger’s Destructive Power

There is no doubt that anger has the power to destroy. Not only does anger have the power to destroy relationships through harsh words or abuse (see Proverbs 15:18, Galatians 5:13-15), anger also has the power to destroy a person’s health. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” The Hebrew word translated envy “means a burning, then the color produced in the face by a deep emotion, thus ardour, zeal, jealousy.”[1]  This jealous anger, the Scriptures say, rots the bones. One final point about anger’s destructive power is that it is enslaving.  Proverbs 19:19 says, “A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.”

Anger’s Basic Goodness

While anger certainly has a lot of destructive power, it is also essential that Christians understand that anger is basically good. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” Another way to consider anger’s basic goodness is to recognize that a person who never gets angry about anything is ungodly. Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath everyday” (NIV).  While the absence of anger is ungodly, so is explosive anger. Proverbs 14:17 says, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly . . .”  Also, Proverbs 29:11 reminds us that a fool gives full vent to his spirit . . .”  If the absence of anger is ungodly and explosive anger is ungodly, how do we help someone who is struggling with an anger problem. We want to help them to be like God, who is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6).  Another vitally important matter about anger is being angry for the right reason. It is right to be angry that the Law of God is being violated; it is not godly to be angry because I am being inconvenienced.


How Anger Goes Wrong

When trying to discern how anger goes wrong, it is essential that we recognize that a person’s struggle with anger is not the result of other people or circumstances, a person’s struggle with anger is a result of what is going on in the heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Focusing more specifically on anger, Paul Tripp, in his video series How to Be Good and Angry says, “If you ever want to understand your anger, you have to look this way (inward), because your anger is connected not just to events outside of you; your anger is connected to something going on inside of you. You will never gain ground with your anger unless you get this.”

To help a person see how his or her anger has gone wrong, we must look at what precipitated the anger.  It is helpful to look for themes and patterns where and when anger has been expressed. For example, let me share with you about a man I counseled who struggled mightily with his anger because his reputation was ruined and his livelihood was threatened by false accusations and slander.  How does a person in this situation redeem his anger?

Redeeming Anger

In helping this man who was clearly sinned against, what are some practical truths from the Scripture he can hang his hat on to give him a clear path forward?  First, as has been discussed, it is not wrong to be angry, and in this situation it is appropriate to be angry because falsehoods have been told, and God hates lying (Proverbs 6:16-17). Second, it is also important for this man to be slow to anger.  If his focus is on his reputation and clearing his name, he will eventually be venting his anger in a foolish rage.  Finally, if he responds to the false accusations with kindness and grace, he will be living out the gospel and following the example of Christ (Romans 2:4; 5:8).  To help a person in this situation like Bob (name changed to protect privacy) or any other person to redeem his or her anger, I would like to suggest 5 R’s to consider in redeeming one’s anger: Realize your own heart struggles, Repent, Rest in God’s sovereign goodness, Refocus, and Resolve.

Ø  Realize your own heart struggles. For Bob, he needed to recognize that he desperately wanted to be valued, and his greatest value in his own mind always came from his job. He was challenged to see his identity in Christ as a child of the King as far more important than his reputation in the business world.  As might be expected, this problem of finding his identity in his work had caused marriage difficulties for years. 

Ø  Repent. Bob needed to repent of making his own reputation more important than incarnating the gospel for the glory of God.  He also needed to repent of: neglecting his wife for over 20 years for his job, growing bitter toward his wife which created distance in their relationship, and becoming harsh and controlling with his older children.

Ø  Rest in God’s sovereign goodness. Instead of worrying and fretting and devising plans to clear his name, Bob was encouraged to rest in God and know that the Lord was still in control.  One of the things that helped him to rest in God was for him to recount the good things that were coming out of this trial. He was able to list three very specific ways God was using this trial for his good: his heart was exposed to show that he found his greatest value in his work and not in Christ; he was getting help for his marriage. . . and months later they were able to say their marriage was better than it had been in decades; and most importantly, he was learning to walk with God through life’s struggles rather than questioning God and living in bitterness.  A Bible verse Bob was encouraged to meditate on to help him further rest in God was Psalm 145:8-9, which says, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”

Ø  Refocus.  Instead of pouring all of his energy into clearing his name, he was encouraged to focus on what God values: trusting God not himself, giving grace to his offenders, loving his wife, shepherding his children, and looking for work that could bring in some income. Matthew 6:33 became a helpful verse for meditation when it says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Ø  Resolve.  Bob was challenged to live with God, to abide with Christ, and allow God to be his greatest treasure; not his reputation. When Bob got a glimpse of Christ being his greatest treasure, he was a different man. His anger and bitterness no longer controlled him. Psalm 73:25-26 are helpful verses for meditation, they say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

In conclusion, as we have journeyed through understanding and redeeming anger, we all must admit that we are all going to need God’s grace to redeem our anger. Thankfully, God is very gracious to us, much more gracious than we deserve. Psalm 103:8 says, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  In Bob’s situation, by God’s grace, he went from an angry, anxious, bitter and frustrated unemployed person to a gracious, kind, compassionate and blessed business owner in a matter of a year. It was a hard road, but God led him to a place of repentance and intimacy with God he had never known in his Christian life. Bob had learned to redeem his anger for the glory of God! May God help each of us do the same.

Scott O’Malley

[1] McDonald, H. D. (1996). Envy. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer & D. J. Wiseman, Ed.) (3rd ed.) (325). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Posted on February 2, 2014