RIGHTEOUS ANGER: A BIBILICAL GUIDE
(Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared on the Womenary blog site in May, 2018. Womenary is Tyler-based program that offers seminar-style classes for women seeking a theological education. The author, Leslie Strader, is a freelance writer who lives in Tyler but grew up in Abilene, the daughter of Rob and Linda Carleton. She graduated from Baylor University and then earned a graduate degree at Hardin-Simmons University. She covered the education beat at the Abilene Reporter-News from 1994 to 1997. Leslie is married to Abilenian Ross Strader, pastor of Bethel Bible Church in Tyler.)
By LESLIE STRADER
I got an email the other day from my insurance company. They were offering me a million dollars worth of umbrella insurance for several things, one being something called “non-malicious slander and libel.” That immediately intrigued me. The way I think about it, slander (words you say) and libel (words you write) are inherently malicious, right? So, I googled it. No help. I called an attorney friend. She was puzzled as well. I couldn’t let it go, so I called my insurance company. “Susan” had to put me on hold and do a bit of research, but I got my answer.
Basically, non-malicious slander and libel are unintentional disparagement. For example, if you post something on Facebook, and it is simply your opinion or experience but someone takes offense or feels you are doing them harm by saying it publicly, they can sue you! Then, your insurance company (in theory) pays the bill. It’s incredible that we are here as a society, bracing ourselves for the consequences of accidentally or inadvertently ruffling someone’s feathers.
It feels like the earth is made of eggshells these days. We don’t know who’s on a hair trigger or what sensitivities someone might have. Certainly, as believers we should always keep watch over the door of our lips (Psalms 141:3) and consider others worthy of greater honor (Philippians 2:3). It just feels a little like we’re about to go off the deep end.
This got me wondering—what does anger do to our bodies? There are tons of studies out there about how anger increases the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, depression, or a weakened immune system. I was very interested to read in one study that repeated, ongoing anger—the kind we’ve seen in our world lately, where something is constantly triggering outrage or offending us, where people are hyper-vigilant about being offended—that kind of anger can cause permanent physical damage.
“If you’re constantly being activated by triggers, then this state of response can start to cause damage. Chronically angry people may not have the mechanism to turn off these effects. They may not produce acetylcholine, a hormone that tempers the more severe effects of adrenaline. There’s potential for liver and kidney damage, as well as high cholesterol. Their nervous system is constantly working and can eventually become overexerted, leading to a weakened heart and stiffer arteries.” (from It Makes My Blood Boil: Physical Effects of Anger by Molly Edmunds)
We see anger in the world every time we turn on the TV or read the news. Anger starts unending Twitter wars and attacks those who think, act, look, or believe differently from us. Anger gets you kicked off an airplane or motivates a mass protest. And when anger swells unchecked into blind rage, it can kill—sometimes relationships, sometimes flesh and blood human beings, without thought or emotion and sometimes, without remorse.
We know from scripture that anger itself is not wrong or sinful. Jesus felt and expressed anger. The best real life example is from John 2 where He kicks the money changers out of the Temple. We call this “righteous anger”—Jesus was right to be angry about something that was wrong. His emotion was right, and His response was perfect, but this is not always true for us.
Thankfully, God’s Word doesn’t leave us to our own devices. The Old and New Testaments offer plenty of truth and wisdom about anger—how to deal with it, how to discern a righteous from a wicked response, even how we can be angry like Jesus.
It’s so important to pray through our emotions and ask the Lord to help us think, feel, and respond as His children. We don’t have to lash out and react without thought; we can let the Holy Spirit rule us, not our emotions. We can choose to be joyful rather than frustrated or exasperated. Instead of letting our blood boil, we can come to the fountain of Living Water where grace is poured out on us, so that we can do the same for others. We can love, we can forgive, we can live peaceably with all because of Christ.
I find asking questions helps me think things through. Here are some questions tied to scripture that can help us discern if our anger is helpful or hurtful, to ourselves or others.
10 Practical (and Biblical) Ways to Check Your Anger
1. Are you stirring up strife (do you work to get others on your “side”—gossiping, convincing, justifying)?
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1, NIV
A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression. Proverbs 29:22, ESV
A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.Proverbs 28:25, ESV
2. Consider your response time. How long does it take you to become angry? How long do you stay angry?
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the heart of fools.Ecclesiastes 7:9, NIV
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.James 1:19-20, NIV
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32, ESV
3. How would the person closest to you describe your relationship with anger?
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.Proverbs 15:18, NIV
Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. Proverbs 29:11, NIV
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. A man of quick temper acts foolishly, and a man of evil devices is hated. Proverbs 14:16-17, ESV
4. Has anger affected (or infected) your relationships?
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. Proverbs 22:24-25, ESV
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18, ESV
5. How well do you understand the situation you’re angry about—can you see both sides, all sides, or just your side?
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.Proverbs 14:29, NIV
6. When was the last time you had a quarrel or fight with someone, either face to face or online?
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.James 4:1-2, NIV
7. Does your anger cause you to sin?
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Psalm 4:4, ESV
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:26, ESV
8. Do you worry about conflict and how its resolution will affect you? Or are you able to leave room for God to work?
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, ESV
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. Psalms 37:7-9, ESV
9. Do you react or respond? When was the last time you overlooked an offense?
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11, ESV
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV
10. How accurately does Ephesians 4:1-6 describe your interactions with others?
I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV