Many Christians struggle to understand how to relate to their anger. It often feels taboo – an emotion that we shouldn’t be experiencing. After all, regarding anger in the Bible we learn that “Love is patient, it is kind,” and so we often tend to shy away from anger as a result.
What Do We Read about Anger in the Bible?
The fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We learn these tenets and as a result, shy away from anger. Anger feels like something to be controlled. Indeed, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth! But then how do we reconcile that with the following passage demonstrating Jesus’ anger in the Bible:
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple, he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” – John 2:13-17
Jesus appears angry here, right? Since we understand that Jesus was perfect and without sin, then this event must not constitute sin either. Further, this isn’t Jesus feeling a little frustrated and kindly asking them to stop – he made a whip! He turned over tables of people doing business scattering their money on the floor where there was surely no way to tell where the money came from. No, this was not some small act of frustration, it was zealous anger.
Throughout the New Testament, anger in the Bible is addressed as something to be respected but used in times of necessity. James 1:19 says “Know this, my beloved brothers; let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Note, it doesn’t say avoid anger or that anger is something to hide, but that when it comes it should come slowly. Anger is something that inevitably will build, but we should allow this to occur at a slow pace.
Further, Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This gives us instruction on what to do with anger, which is simply to not sin while in the grips of it! Additionally, it tells us to address what our anger is and work towards resolution as soon as possible.
What is Anger?
So, let’s look, then, at what anger is. Obviously, it’s an emotion, but as I like to tell my clients, it is almost always both (1) A response emotion and (2) A secondary emotion. As a response emotion, anger gets our attention. Anger tells us something is wrong that needs to be addressed.
From a biological perspective, anger occurs during the activation of our arousal systems telling us to fight, flee, or freeze to defend from a danger. If someone attacks you, you probably need to be ready to address it and defend yourself. Anger is the energy to do that; anger protects you from the things in front of you that endanger you.
Also, if someone is attempting to attack, you probably experience fear. This leads me to the second point that anger is almost always secondary to another emotion. If I were to ask you to unpack what emotions you feel when you feel angry, usually you will come up with other emotions like pain, fear, sadness, hurt, and the feeling of being unheard.
As a secondary emotion, anger sometimes masks these deeper feelings, and it can be hard to move past them. So often we experience that addressing anger comes much more easily than addressing hurt. We fear to express that we are hurt as this demonstrates vulnerability, so instead, we come out with our claws.
In this we fail to “be slow to anger,” but this is not what God commands about anger in the Bible. Instead, we should look to dig deeper and understand what we are experiencing under the surface. To slowly come to anger we must address these underlying emotions, which may involve learning how to remain in touch with our present state and learn to use mindfulness.
Mindfulness is merely the art of staying in the moment. For many, the temptation is to look to the future or the past to make sense of what is happening now. Maybe an event triggers a bad memory from your past or fear about an unpleasant future. Once this happens, we get trapped in this thought pattern which is hard to escape.
Mindfulness activities help us stay grounded and to avoid getting lost in something (which could but may not always result in anger). Some of these activities simply look like breathing deeply, others can involve visualizations to find more peace.
Further, for Christians, I encourage the use of dwelling on the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Pick any one of these, and it is hard to feel anger. Joy and anger rarely coexist (except maybe in doom-scrolling through Twitter and Instagram, but I question if that is true joy!).
Goodness mixed with anger will surely help you in the directive not to sin in your anger. Pick any one of these “fruits” and you will have a harder time sinning in your anger. For instance, Self-control coupled with anger may actually result in something quite productive!
Now, the thing with the fruits of the Spirit is that they are of the Spirit. This implies that these do not necessarily come as a result of our normal human nature. We need the help of the Spirit to exemplify these and to bountifully harvest these fruits in our lives. Prayer to grow in this realm helps to develop these character traits. We don’t have to do work on our anger alone, God can help us.
I hope by now you are feeling a slightly nuanced view of anger. While it is something that is not enjoyable, it is also not inherently bad. It gets our attention and prompts us to address other impactful events in our lives. Anger is good when it is slow in coming and propels us to make positive change. There are many injustices in life that warrant anger and indeed demand it!
However, that guy that stole your parking spot may not be one. For many, anger comes too quickly, and in those, it must be addressed. Others stuff anger down and endanger themselves by not addressing its existence. Just like pain prevents us from damaging ourselves physically, anger can prevent us from allowing ourselves to be damaged emotionally.
If you are reading this and finding yourself relating to anger in either of these directions, then let me assure you that you are in good company! Most seem to be too quick to or too avoidant of anger. Either way, counseling can be a great resource to unpack what underlying patterns are at play preventing you from experiencing a healthy relationship with your anger.
Entering into counseling may seem like a scary or foreign proposition, also let me encourage you that it can provide so much healing and freedom in your life. If you feel like your fuse is a millimeter long, you can learn to identify your triggers and figure out how to lower the level of stress in your life.
If you feel like you can’t express a negative word at all, maybe counseling can help you to find your voice and improve in self-esteem to find yourself worthy of feeling anger. Either way, reach out soon and begin your journey of mastering your anger.
“Emoticons”, courtesy of AbsolutVision, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Crazy”, Courtesy of RobinHiggins, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Fist of Fury”, Courtesy of PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Fruit Bowls”, Courtesy of Silviarita, Pixabay.com, CC0 License