Millions of honest, hardworking people are outraged because their savings or pension has been slashed due to the greedy dealings of big corporations. Others are mad because they've been laid off from their job. Still others have lost their house. Many are trapped in painful, expensive illness. Those all seem like good reasons to be irate.
We Christians find ourselves asking: "Is getting angry a sin?"
Is all the rage we're feeling today justified?
A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11, NIV)
Getting angry is a temptation. What we do after that can lead to sin. If God doesn't want us to vent our anger, we need to see what's worth getting mad about in the first place, and second, what God wants us to do with those feelings.
Worth Getting Angry About?
Much of what gets us worked up could be classified as irritants, those time-wasting, ego-bruising nuisances that threaten to make us lose control. But stress is cumulative. Pile up enough of those insults, and we're ready to explode. If we're not careful, we can say or do something we'll be sorry for later.
God counsels patience toward these aggravations. They will never stop, so we need to learn how to handle them:
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. (Psalm 37:7, NIV)
Echoing this Psalm is a Proverb:
Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!" Wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22, NIV)
There is a hint that something bigger is going on. These annoyances are frustrating, yes, but God is in control. If we truly believe that, we can wait for him to work. We don't need to jump in, thinking God's off napping somewhere.
Distinguishing between petty trifles and serious injustice can be difficult, especially when we're biased because we are the victim. We can blow things out of proportion.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12, NIV)
Patience is not our natural reaction, though. How about revenge? Or holding a grudge? Or shock when God doesn't immediately zap the other person with a lightning bolt?
Growing a thicker skin so these insults bounce off is not easy. We hear so much today about our "rights" that we see every slight, intended or not, as a personal attack against us. Much of what gets us angry is just thoughtlessness. People are rushed, self-centered, worried about their own little world.
Even when someone is deliberately rude, we need to resist the urge to lash out in kind. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his followers to abandon that "eye for an eye" attitude. If we want nastiness to stop, we need to set the example.
We can seek to live our lives under the control of the Holy Spirit or we can let the sinful nature of our flesh have its way. It's a choice we make every day. We can either turn to the Lord for patience and strength or we can allow potentially destructive emotions like anger to run unchecked. If we choose the latter, God's Word cautions us over and over of consequences.
Proverbs 14:17 says, "A quick-tempered man does foolish things." Proverbs 16:32 follows with this encouragement: "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city." Summing these up is James 1:19-20: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." (NIV)
When Jesus got angry—at the moneychangers in the temple or the self-serving Pharisees—it was because they were exploiting religion instead of using it to bring people closer to God. Jesus taught the truth but they refused to listen.
We can also get angry at injustice, such as killing the unborn, human trafficking, selling illegal drugs, molesting children, maltreating workers, polluting our environment ... the list goes on and on.
Rather than stewing about the problems, we can band together with others and take action to fight, by peaceful, lawful means. We can volunteer and donate to organizations that oppose abuse. We can write our elected officials. We can form a neighborhood watch. We can educate others, and we can pray.
Evil is a strong force in our world, but we cannot stand by and do nothing. God wants us to use our anger constructively, to combat wrongdoing.
Don't Be a Doormat
How are we to respond to personal attacks, to the betrayals, thievery, and injuries that hurt us so deeply?
"But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:39, NIV)
Jesus may have been speaking in hyperbole, but he also told his followers to be as "shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16, NIV). We are to protect ourselves without stooping to the level of our attackers. An angry outburst accomplishes little, besides satisfying our emotions. It also gratifies those who believe all Christians are hypocrites.
Jesus told us to expect persecution. The nature of today's world is that someone is always trying to take advantage of us. If we are shrewd yet innocent, we will not be as shocked when it happens and will be better prepared to deal with it calmly.
Getting angry is a natural human emotion that need not lead us into sin—if we remember that God is a God of justice and we use our anger in a way that honors him.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack's Bio Page.