Tired of your anger hurting yourself and others? God’s questions about anger may be helpful in dealing with this timeless human problem.
Have you ever accidently butted heads with someone? Sometimes my young daughter flails her body a little too uncontrollably when playing, and our heads connect in a less-than-pleasant way.
What about on purpose, though? Have you ever intentionally butted heads with someone? Unless you are a mixed martial arts fighter or a goat, probably not.
But so much of the anger people express every day seems like an intentional headbutt—and so often it ends up in a painful, lose-lose situation for us and the person we are angry with.
How can we control and avoid anger in a world where outrage and violence are becoming more prevalent?
Throughout the Bible, God asked people questions about their anger. These questions can help us determine whether our anger is closer to a righteous indignation that isn’t a sin, or a lose-lose temper tantrum that is.
God’s anger questionnaire (learning the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger)
- “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?” (Genesis 4:6).
God asked this question to Cain when he became angry that God hadn’t accepted his offering, but had accepted his brother’s offering instead. Cain allowed his anger to fester and provoke him to eventually murder his brother.
Anger is often referred to as a secondary emotion, which means it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. A specific trigger or primary emotion is usually behind the anger.
Righteous indignation comes from a primary emotion of zeal for God and is compatible with the fruit of His Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
On the other hand, why was Cain angry? He was jealous and envious, two triggers that come from a different list—the carnal works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Outbursts of wrath are included in this list, as well as other familiar reasons for unrighteous anger, such as selfish ambition and hatred.
Here are some practical tips for examining why we are angry:
- Analyze the situation, perhaps through journaling, and identify the plausible trigger for the anger you feel. Were you snubbed? Did someone make an unkind comment? Comparing past experiences of when we’ve been angry and noting similarities and differences can be helpful.
- Question your first gut-reaction answer: “I was obviously angry because of an injustice.” We naturally want to be right and be righteous, but on examination we might realize that we were simply full of selfish anger.
So, first we must ask ourselves why we are becoming angry, and answer honestly. This may require some wise counsel from others who have witnessed our anger in the past.
- “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4).
How can we control and avoid anger in a world where outrage and violence are becoming more prevalent?God asked this question of the prophet Jonah when he became angry that God didn’t destroy the sinful city of Nineveh after the people repented of their sins. Jonah didn’t seem to care and actually asked God to let him die, if this was how things were going to be.
Is it right for us to be angry if our motivation has nothing to do with zeal for God and our anger is definitely not compatible with the fruit of the Spirit? Jonah thought he was right to be angry that God didn’t destroy an entire city that repented. Do we sometimes feel we are right to be angry when God would wholeheartedly disagree?
Some questions to ask ourselves in determining if it is indeed right for us to be angry can include:
- What makes me think God approves and is happy with my anger right now?
- If I wasn’t angry right now, would that be better for me and others?
After we know why we became angry, we can further analyze if it is right that we are angry based on our motivation, the situation and comparing the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. Again, it would be wise to seek counsel from others who don’t have a vested interest in being an echo chamber for us.
- “Is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?” (Ezekiel 18:29).
God asked this question to the ancient Israelites, when they described God’s judgment as unfair, despite their nation being mired in terrible sins.
Much of the time, anger comes from a feeling of being treated unfairly or unjustly. But life in this world is not fair. We humans are experts at treating each other unfairly. And part of God’s plan is allowing humanity to make its own choices—to experience the fruit of its own unfairness—but not forever. God’s justice and mercy will prevail in the end.
Was whatever caused us to be angry our version of unfair or God’s version of unfair?
Some things to consider:
- What is objectively fair? Not fair to you or fair to the other party, but fair in the eyes of God?
- If we got what we thought was fair, would others see it as a conflict of interest?
- Is our appeal to fairness really a cloak for selfishness?
Even if we know why we are angry and why we feel it is right to be, we still might have to ask ourselves about our concept of fairness. This requires godly wisdom (James 3:17), especially to avoid hypocrisy and selfish partiality in what we think is fair.
Anger problem solved? Not hardly
A Christian’s effort to overcome destructive anger is a work in progress. On this road to being angry but not sinning, hopefully the questions God has posed can help us think about why we are angry, whether it is right for us to be angry and what standard of fairness we may be basing our anger on.
Answering these questions honestly can save us, and those we are angry with, a lot of pain.
At any rate, this approach works a lot better than a headbutt.
If you’d like to suggest a topic for future editions of “Christianity in Progress,” you can do so anonymously at lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas. We look forward to your suggestions!