Anger is everywhere. Everybody gets angry. You get angry. I get angry. We constantly get angry, so how can we deal with anger biblically?
This article reviews the most important principles from the Bible on the subject of anger. Much of this content is based on two articles published in the Journal of Biblical Counseling written by David Powlison: Understanding Anger and Three Lies About Anger and the Transforming Truth.
To begin, let’s start by understanding five important truths about anger.
5 Biblical Truths About Anger
1. The Bible speaks about anger.
The Bible speaks a lot about anger. It describes the anger of God throughout the Old and New Testament. Paul mentions God’s anger and wrath more than 50 times in the book of Romans.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)
“It would be impossible for a moral being to stand in the presence of perceived wrong indifferent and unmoved.” (B.B. Warfield)
The fact that God can be angry teaches us that anger can be right, appropriate and beautiful. God’s anger is never capricious or ill-humored. He responds justly to what is wrong and offensive.
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” (Ezekiel 23:18)
Anger is the fair response to something evil, and the loving response on behalf of evil’s victims.
“God, of course, is also the most loving person in the Bible, and the Son of God expresses the fullness of His love. We often fail to see that God’s anger and love are entirely consistent with each other as different expressions of His goodness and glory. The two work together.” (David Powlison)
You can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand His anger. God’s wrath has become the hope of His children though it is the despair of His enemies. God expresses His love for His people in the three ways He expresses His anger at wrong.
- In love, the anger your sin deserves fell on Jesus Christ.
- In love, God’s anger works to disarm the power of your sin. God’s anger remedies and destroys ongoing sin.
- In love, God’s anger will deliver you from the pain of others’ sins. In steadfast love, He will deliver us from our enemies; on the last day all causes of pain will be destroyed forever.
The Bible also describes Satan and man as getting angry.
“Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:12)
“So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:5b)
“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Genesis 6:11)
There are two motivations for sinful anger: (1) specific longings and (2) unbelief. When we have specific longings and desires that we do not get, we get sinfully angry. When we do not trust and believe that God is infinitely powerful, wise and good, we get sinfully angry.
Sinful anger can manifest itself in different ways.
- Adam: anger caused blame shifting.
- Cain: anger caused violent murder.
- Potiphar: anger caused burning emotions.
- Potiphar’s wife: anger planned with malice.
- Israel in the wilderness: anger caused grumbling and complaining.
Sinful anger brings bad consequences.
- Anger costed Moses and the people of Israel the blessing to see the promised land.
- Anger caused division in relationships. (Proverbs 29:22)
- Anger opened the door for every type of typical sin.
The gospel that forgives is the same gospel that can change angry people. (Titus 2:11-3:8)
2. Anger is something you do.
Anger involves the entire human nature.
- Anger involves the body. Nostrils flare. Breathing becomes loud and irregular. Blood vessels dilate. Muscles tighten. Hormone levels change.
- Anger involves the emotions. People feel angry. Feeling grumpy, self-pity and critical involves anger. An angry person can display feelings of coldness and vengefulness.
- Anger involves the thoughts. People can think angry thoughts and image. Their imagination, reason and memory can be filled with anger.
- Anger involves the behavior. After thinking and planning, anger manifests itself with words and actions. An angry person speaks harsh words and performs violent, hurtful actions. Substance abuse, sexual immortality and even suicide can result from sinful anger.
Anger has a target and object. Anger is central to many interpersonal conflicts in marriages, families, churches, neighborhoods, workplaces, etc. Often people get angry with God Himself.
3. Anger is natural.
Anger is natural because we are made in the image of God. God created us with the capacity for anger, and it was good. We have the capacity to hate wrongful deeds and their effects on others. God also gives us the capacity to love those who do wrong, since God has given us mercy instead of His wrath.
“To others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” (Jude 23)
Anger is natural because we have a corrupt sin nature. Since the fall, we have the capacity for sinful anger. We are hardwired for resentment and hatred. Seeing my 2 year old daughter throwing herself on the ground in a tantrum reminds me of this truth. Because of this, James warns us against getting sinfully angry.
“Be slow to anger, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
4. Anger is learned.
Anger is taught and modeled to us. We pick up anger from other people. Sometimes children see it modeled at home. Sometimes, it is modeled by friends and colleagues in other situations and environments.
“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man.” (Proverbs 22:24)
Sinful anger always comes “out of the heart” (Mark 7:20-23), but the exact form anger takes often is nurtured. There are cultural differences in how sinful anger may be expressed.
Anger is learned through practice. When practiced well, it can become “second nature.”
5. Anger is a moral matter.
First, anger evaluates. It weighs something or someone, finds it lacking, wrong, or displeasing, and then moves into action. Anger is a “moral emotion.” It is a self-contained judicial system, reacting to perceived wrong with energy.
Anger is “the emotionally aroused form of judgment against perceived evil.”
Then anger itself is evaluated. God judges our judgment; He morally evaluates every instance of anger. He evaluates (1) my criterion for judgment and (2) my way of reacting.
A Christian is not “above” emotional reaction, but he is not simply to unleash emotions. To be stoically apathetic at evil is to sin by omission. To recklessly “get something of my chest” is to be self-centered and to commit sin by commission.
7 Questions That Differentiate Godly and Sinful Anger
1. Do you get angry about the right things?
Do you have good reason to get angry, or are you like Jonah in Jonah 4? Sometimes we get angry from a wrong personal set of expectations.
Sometimes we get angry from misperceptions. We have distorted beliefs, desires and cravings that contradict God’s rule in our hearts.
Make sure you are angry at something that God wants you to hate.
2. Do you express your anger in the right way?
Sometimes you get angry about the right thing, but you express your anger in a sinful way. Are you expressing it constructively, to the glory of God? Or is your anger full of self-righteousness and punitiveness?
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
The thing that happened “out there” seems so wrong that I go blind to the wrong that is “in here.” The sins of self-righteousness are self-deceiving.
To determine whether anger is right or wrong in its expression, ask whether it acts to condemn or to offer help.
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
Our anger is not meant to be punitive, to get even. It is meant to do good first to the victims or potential victims of evil. And it is meant to do good to the perpetrators of evil.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
Even in Jesus’ diatribe on the religious leaders in Matthew 23, He never pronounced punishment. Jesus spoke to appeal to those leaders, warning them that they faced wrath, “Woe to you.” Jesus said later on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
3. How long does your anger last?
Another gauge of anger is its duration. How long does it last?
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26)
In general, the longer the duration of the anger, the more opportunity anger can become sinful.
4. How controlled is your anger?
Godly anger is controlled by the fruit of the Spirit: self-control, gentleness, patience.
“Anger is the emotion that has been given by God to attack problems. The energies of anger must be productively released under control toward a problem. Anger must be directed toward destroying the problem, not toward destroying the person. Anger, like a good horse, must be bridled.” (Jay Adams)
Much of the intensity of anger will be greatly diminished when it is controlled by the Spirit, because so much anger is reckless, vengeful, and misguided.
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Proverbs 29:11)
5. What motivates your anger?
The simplest question to ask about what underlies anger is, “What do I really want?”
People motivated by desire for God’s glory, for personal conformity to Jesus’ model and will, and for the well-being of others will be angry in one way. People motivated by pride and false beliefs will be angry in a different way.
The counsel of others can help us sort things through when we are blind to something and can’t figure it out. Counsel can help us when we deceive ourselves about our motives, dressing up something unsavory as though it were God’s will.
6. Is your anger “ready” to respond to another person’s habitual sins?
Is your anger reaction equally repetitive? Previous accounts should not influence the intensity of your anger. Repeated arguments reveal that something is wrong with your anger.
“Godly anger is part of grace and peacemaking. Grace breaks the cycle of provocation-and-reaction so characteristic of life in a sinful world. Sins, including sinful anger, are usually repetitive. But godly anger starts fresh, because it keeps no record of wrongs.” (David Powlison)
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
7. What is the effect of your anger?
Sinful anger creates more problems. It complicates matters. It hurts people and puts them on the defensive.
People may still retaliate when faced with the just, accurate, and merciful words of godly anger. But you should not be the occasion of stumbling; they should only be tempted by the sinfulness of their own hearts, not by your angry provocation.
Godly anger does not need to “win.” It does not have to succeed in bringing malefactors to justice. Its purposes are more modest on the surface, but more extravagant underneath: the glory of God and the eternal well-being of God’s people. Godly anger has good effects for all concerned.
“When your best efforts seem to have had no good or lasting effect, you become more objective and matter-of-fact. On the inside, mercy works to soften your heart. Jesus would have you pray for their well-being, which includes their repentance unto life. On the outside, you are called to persistent, straightforward acts of unmerited kindness.” (David Powlison)
“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:28)
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (Romans 12:20).
Three Lies About Anger
Lie 1: Anger is something inside me.
Anger is a moral act of the entire person, not “something inside you.”
- There is a false “hydraulic theory of anger.” It teaches that anger is an emotional fluid that builds up pressure inside and must be released. Angry feels fiery, but it is not a fire. Therefore, the solution is not to quench a fire. The proper moral response is to turn from sin to God’s grace in repentant faith. Any solution other than repentance is insufficient and false.
- Another false theory is that anger is a “demon” inside you. But the devil’s role in anger is no different from any other sin. He does not demonize us into sin. He tempts and lies in his attempt to control and destroy us. Anger’s solution is not exorcism. It is repentance.
We do not resolve anger by venting it or exorcising it. Anger is a moral act, and its solution is a moral act.
Lie 2: It’s okay to be angry with God.
Being angry with God seems logical, but it is wicked. Job’s wife advice is wrong.
“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9)
There are 4 wrong principles people use to deal their anger with God.
- Anger is neutral. It’s acceptable to be angry with God because He created us with angry emotions.
- Our anger is justified. God has disappointed us. We have cried out to God. He could stop our abuse but chose to allow it to continue.
- We can vent our anger to God. God is mature and can absorb the honest anger of His people.
- We need to forgive God for the ways He has let us down to remedy our hostility with Him.
The key question to ask is “What do you want and believe?” Our hearts are controlled by desires and lies that have substituted the living and true God.
Anger with God is sinful anger. We must counter the 4 wrong principles when we interpret our anger with God.
- Anger is not neutral. Anger is a moral act. Anger with God is maliciously accusal of God.
- God does not betray us or let us down when we suffer. Groaning to God, in faith and hope about our sufferings is heartily warranted. God never promised freedom from tears, mourning, and pain (and the evils that cause them) until the final day of judgment. But we cannot blame God or accusal God of indifference or betrayal.
- Bible teaches us to cry of faith, not roar in blasphemous rage. We do not need ventilate our sinful anger at God in order to deal with it. We need to repent of it. In the anger Psalms, psalmists are dismayed because they know and trust that God is good, because they love Him, and because they struggle to reconcile His promises with current affliction. But there is no cursing, hateful bitterness, lies, scorn or blasphemies.
- The idea of forgiving God is blasphemous. A person who deals with his anger with God has found forgiveness. He has not granted forgiveness. God is perfectly good, and He does not need forgiveness.
Lie 3: My big problem is anger with myself.
Many believe that a major problem that we face is self-anger, being angry with ourselves. The proposed solution is self-forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves.
Here is the line of reasoning.
- God created us in His image, and we have intrinsic value.
- Jesus died on the cross because He values me and loves me.
- I can feel good about myself and tolerate my shortcomings more easily.
- I can forgive myself and not be angry with myself.
3 Important Insights to Self-Anger
- A self-angry person fails to live up to some standard. The standard may be right or wrong. This person wants to live up a certain standard, but he fails. He then gets angry with himself.
- A self-angry person makes himself the final judge. A self-angry person gets little satisfaction out of attempts to help them believe in God’s forgiveness in Christ. He may “already believe” that God has forgiven him, but it isn’t enough. He views his evaluation and judgment as all-important, more significant than God’s.
- A self-angry person creates his own “savior.” He tries to do something to make up for his failure. He tries to do better and work harder, but it does not work. He becomes angry with himself, and he cannot forgive himself.
3 Important Responses to Self-Anger
- Make sure we use God’s standard. We cannot apply our own standards or the standards of other people. We need to be evaluated by God’s standards, expressed through His Word, the Bible.
- Make God the final judge and evaluator. We cannot live before our own eyes and conscience. We cannot live for other’s approval. This is man-fearing. We need to be God-fearing. We need to make God our evaluator and judge. Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom. (Proverbs 9:10)
- Make Jesus Christ our Savior. We cannot look to our own effort and works to make us perfect. We cannot punish ourselves for our own guilt. Only Jesus Christ can give us perfection. Only Jesus can bear our guilt. Jesus Christ is our great Savior.
“The pride that inhabits “low self-esteem” and “anger at myself” is not cured by misaffirming me as valuable. The biblical gospel points us to the worth of Jesus Christ, who redeemed the unworthy and deservedly damned.” (David Powlison)
Biblical Pathway Out of Anger
We can ask a series of 8 questions to find a pathway out of anger. Answering these questions honestly and truthfully can help us resolve our anger biblically.
1. What Is the Situation?
What is the trigger that is provoking your anger?
2. How Am I Reacting?
How are you expressing your sinful anger?
- What are you thinking?
- What is your body feeling? What emotions are you experiencing?
- What are you saying? What are your actions? What is your behavior?
3. What are my motives?
What do I really want? What do I really believe?
Remember that anger comes out of our heart and not from the situation itself. Remember also that when cravings and false beliefs rule my life, they produce sinful anger. If God ruled my life, these desires would be subordinated.
4. What are the consequences?
There may be physical consequences such as physical ailments and injury. There may be emotional consequences such as guilt, anxiety, or sadness. There may be a loss of time, money, energy and blessing.
These first four questions help us take inventory of the reaction of our anger. The next four questions help us resolve our anger biblically by the grace of God.
5. What is true?
- God is sovereign, present and in control of every situation. I am not in control. God’s ways are higher than mine, and I can trust in this.
- God’s word speaks to my situation. God’s word is a mirror. It helps me see my thoughts, actions and desires as their really are. God’s word is a lamp. It guides in how I am to think and act in God’s perfect wisdom.
- God’s word speaks of the gospel.God’s Word helps identify my sin. It also points me to the truths of the gospel. Through the gospel, I can be forgiven and restored. I can be helped by God.
6. How can I turn to God for help?
I need to repent and turn from my sinful cravings and unbelief. I need to confess my sins and ask God for forgiveness. I need to believe the gospel and ask for the wisdom to know how to respond and the power to do it. I need to ask God for grace and power to trust in God’s character. He is all-powerful, infinitely wise, and perfectly good.
7. How should I respond in this situation to glorify God?
Repentance and faith lead to concrete changes in behavior, emotion, thoughts.
- What should I do instead?
- What should I feel instead?
- What should I think instead?
8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?
Godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often has an effect for good.
Your insight and perspective on people and situations may change for the better. Your emotional state will change for the better. Your relationships and communication with people may change for the better.
Your love and faith in God will increase. You will be more grateful. You will be more equipped and ready to comfort and encourage others. You will be more sanctified by God’s power and grace.
How do we deal with anger biblically? We start by understanding five important truths about anger. Next, we ask seven questions that help us differentiate godly and sinful anger. We dispel three lies about anger. We review a series of questions to biblically resolve our anger.
God wants us to make sense of our anger. He wants us to know how to properly handle our anger and resolve it biblically. I hope you gained a little more understanding through this summary.
Further Study on Managing Anger Biblically
- Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem by Robert D. Jones
- Anger: Escaping the Maze by David Powlison
- Controlling Anger by David Powlison
- Managing Your Anger by David Powlison