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Anger is a strong feeling of displeasure or antagonism. Anger often leads to forceful, even violent, action directed at the source of real or perceived harm. Or it can be manifested in words—often strong ones!
We are living in an angry world! Incidents of “road rage” make the news, even to the point where some drivers have shot at others whose driving annoyed or threatened them. Fans have been known to riot and destroy property when their favorite sports teams lose—and sometimes, even when they win! Far too often spouses batter their mates, and parents even abuse children in fits of rage.
Violence and anger are staples of many television shows and movies. The terms “anger issues” or “anger management” have found their way into our speech and culture. Perhaps we’re not even surprised by all the anger in the world, because of how commonplace it is, but it does seem to be on the increase.
Anger is an emotion that has been present since the beginning of humanity. The Bible reveals that the first human ever born (Cain) became so angry at God and his brother (Abel) that he killed his brother (Genesis 4:4-8). Anger has been with people from the start.
But there is evidence that the problem is getting even worse. A report of the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom, titled “Boiling Point” (March 2008), dealt with rising anger. The report included a description of some of the manifestations and causes of that rising level of anger:
“Mounting evidence links anger with a range of physical, mental and social problems. Chronic and intense anger has been linked with Coronary Heart Disease, stroke, cancer and common physical illnesses including colds and flu, and generally poorer health; as well as increased risk-taking, poor decision-making and substance misuse.
“Higher levels of anger are related to lower levels of social support and higher stress levels. High levels of anger expression have also been associated with less frequent use of positive coping strategies such as actively addressing problems.
“Anger has also been linked with mental health problems including depression and self-harm. People describe anger as more likely to have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships than any other emotion.
“There is evidence to suggest that societal changes are contributing to a rise in emotional problems. Public polling carried out for this report indicates that a majority of the population believe that people in general are getting angrier. Influential authors quoted in this report have examined life in 21st century Western society and stated recently that we are getting angrier, and that despite 50 years of economic growth in the UK, we are no happier.”
One mental health professional in the United States believes that a contributing factor to increased anger in modern times is the frustration people experience when their prosperity, health and levels of “feeling good” do not rise up to the levels that an “entitlement” culture has led them to expect.
He says this is “one reason for what seems to be a steady increase in anger. Entitlement easily creates anger in today’s ‘cult of feeling good,’ where feeling good seems to be the ultimate life goal. Today people feel entitled not just to the pursuit of happiness, not even just to happiness, but to feeling good most of the time. If they don’t feel good most of the time, someone or something must be to blame. The blue ribbon recipe for anger is mixing blame with entitlement and vulnerability” (Steven Stosny, Ph.D, “Anger Problems: A Smokescreen for Fear-Shame Phobia,” Psychology Today website, Jan. 9, 2009).
Instant communication around the world may also play a part in increased anger. Now those living in poor nations can regularly see how prosperous some other nations are, which tends to increase jealousy and resentment and anger.
Anger often leads to hurting and violence and suffering. But is all anger sin in the sight of God? No. Even God gets angry. There is such a thing as righteous anger.
Though God is love and expresses His love and mercy to mankind in many ways, He also expresses righteous anger at times. He is holy, and He is repulsed by sin. His anger is directed at sin and the harm it does to those He has created. His anger (and the correction that accompanies it) is for the purpose of ending the evil, of stopping the cause of suffering and restoring people to a right relationship with Him.
Consider what the Bible says about God’s righteous anger:
These scriptures show that God does express anger, but they also reveal that God is slow to anger, and His mercy and love often make His anger quickly pass. He knows that we could not endure for long in the presence of His full anger.
God is righteous and holy and in perfect control of His anger. He gets angry only slowly, and stays that way only for so long as necessary for perfect justice and righteousness to prevail.
Very often, human anger is an expression of unfulfilled lust, covetousness, hatred, resentment and a desire to take vengeance on someone else. In many cases it arises very quickly, with small provocation, is accompanied by wicked thoughts of vengeance and violence, and lasts a long time.
This sort of anger represents a lack of godly character, a loss of control over one’s own thoughts and actions. It does not represent righteousness in those cases, but the sinfulness of the carnal mind (Romans 8:7).
Cain’s anger was a manifestation of resentment toward God and His correction. It also showed jealousy toward his brother Abel, because of the favor Abel had found with God. This type of anger is evil. Most human anger is a “work of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-20).
Such anger is a sin, and it should be repented of and controlled by all who wish to serve God and develop the holiness and righteousness of God in their lives, through the working of God’s Holy Spirit.
Consider what the Bible says about avoiding this sort of sinful anger:
With the help of God’s Holy Spirit, a person can increasingly control and overcome the sin of unrighteous human anger. Such a person can take on the mind of Christ and can even express righteous anger—at things, events or actions that dishonor God and the suffering that such things bring.
This sort of anger is not sin. It is a product of the transforming Spirit of God at work in a person’s mind and character. Consider what the Bible says about anger in that light:
“And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored as whole as the other” (Mark 3:5). Jesus was angry and grieved by their self-righteous blindness that was standing in the way of God’s supernatural response that would bring relief for one who was crippled.
There is another essential thing to consider with regard to what the Bible says about anger. There is an evil spirit at work in the world—an enemy of God and man. His name is Satan the devil. He opposes the will of God and has for a long time. He uses his influence to stir people up to resist God as he does, and he is angry! He stirs up anger in human beings. He is angry at God, and he wishes for people to similarly resist and be angry at God.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The influence of the “prince of the power of the air” (Satan) contributes to the thoughts and actions of a deceived mankind.
His influence on the minds of men will be even more pronounced near the end of this age—just before the return of Jesus Christ as King of Kings: “Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Revelation 12:12).
Soon, though, the devil will be removed, and humankind will no longer be influenced by the devil’s anger (Revelation 20:1-3).
Each person has the power of choice to control anger and to express it only in righteous ways, instead of in evil ways. See more about this in the blog post “Overcoming Anger.”
God gives His Holy Spirit—which is His power—to those who obey and seek Him. That power leads to self-control and peace in the place of unrighteous anger.