By Andy Constable
Anger is a problem with which everyone struggles. For some it is such a problem that it is destroying their lives. As Christians we are called to be self-controlled people who sew peace in our lives. But not all anger in the Bible is bad. Anger is a characteristic of God. Jesus was righteously angry in His ministry on earth. There is, therefore, good anger and bad anger. The question is are we channelling our anger in the right way?
‘Good anger’ is an emotional response to things like sin and injustice. It is a slow, self-controlled anger and is motivated by love. This kind of anger does not control us. ‘Bad anger’ is the opposite. It is explosive, irrational and, ultimately, destructive. So, what causes this bad anger in us? James 4:1-2 gives us some answers:
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and you do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
The key is that our passions (or desires) are at war within us. The root of our anger is desires that spring from idolatrous hearts. When these desires are threatened we often react with anger. We all have things that we love more than God in our lives – these are called idols and the problem is that they can rule our hearts. Then, when these idols are poked and challenged by people we often react with anger.
When we get angry, it is important, therefore, to be looking below the surface and into the heart of the issue. We live in a culture that likes to blame outside circumstances for our reactions. We say things like “he made me react like this.” But the Bible says that our reactions to life’s situations simply reveals what we really love most in life. They reveal something sinful about us. So how do we begin to address our heart issues?
I always say to people that our ‘bad anger’ will never be totally eradicated in this life because we have layer upon layer of idols. But, what we can work on, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is how we process anger and repent of it. Some questions to ask yourself are:
When do you get angry? How do you get angry? Why do you become angry?
Take a situation when you last got really mad and process it. Break down the situation and work through those questions. Then when you get mad again, repeat. Try to identify what your real heart issue is.
The key to all of this, of course, is repentance. We need to repent of the things that we love more than God. Then we need to run back into His merciful arms. It is only His grace, given through the gospel, that can truly transform our hearts. Only the gospel can challenge our hearts and teach us to love righteousness at the same time. This is key in our battle against ‘bad anger’.
The problem that most people have is that they don’t (or don’t want to) get to the heart of their issues. As James teaches, we get angry because “we desire and do not have.” But, these desires must be challenged and rooted out by the grace of God if we are to channel our anger towards sin and injustice. Sometimes I look at my own anger and wonder why I can’t get as passionate about my sin as I do about losing control or comfort. The problem, again, is my idolatrous heart and the things that I love more than God.
Allow the Holy Spirit to challenge the heart, repent and we will sew peace and self-control instead of unrighteous anger.