by Carolyn Lawrence.
I wonder if you ever get angry. And if you do, how do you deal with it?
A husband said to his wife, “When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger?”
The wife replied, “I clean the toilet.”
“How does that help?” asked the husband.
The wife responded, “I use your toothbrush!”
There seems to be a lot of anger and frustration in our nation right now – much of it has arisen during the past two years as people have been forced to deal with circumstances and changes they could never have envisaged. I have seen this expressed in many different ways. Some people aim their anger at someone unknown personally to them, often using social media – people having a rant, writing unkind, sarcastic or abusive words; people being critical, nit picking and judgemental of others.
Others are expressing their anger at people known to them – perhaps being irritable with family and friends or having more arguments. At the other extreme we have seen an increase in domestic violence and abuse in the home, particularly during the lockdowns of the past two years.
Some express their anger in the way they drive, by slamming doors or in activities that harm themselves. Others express their anger at God by turning away from their faith or the church. Still others are not expressing their anger outwardly but are keeping it inside leading to growing resentment, bitterness and depression.
So is it right to be angry? Ephesians 4:26 says ‘In your anger do not sin.’ We all get angry and anger itself is not a sin but it is what we DO with the anger that can lead us into sinful words and actions.
There is a difference between righteous anger and unhealthy anger. The anger we experience when see injustice or people being treated badly is a righteous anger and we know that Jesus expressed anger when he saw the money changers in the temple. Righteous anger can lead people to take action to right wrongs.
We should feel angry when we hear about people being trafficked, people starving in a world where there is plenty of food, Christians persecuted for their beliefs, people who are bullied, downtrodden and abused. If those things don’t make us angry then we perhaps need to ask God for a heart of compassion for those who suffer and a desire to do something about it.
But what about the more unhealthy anger? How do we deal with our feelings of anger when perhaps things haven’t gone our way, we have had our pride hurt, when we feel frustrated, helpless or stressed?
Here are a few suggestions with some Bible verses.
- Recognise your feelings and express them.
Psalm 62:8 Pour out your hearts to God for he is our refuge.
As we read the Psalms we see the writers expressing all manner of emotions to God and reading these Psalms can be a real help to us in times of difficulty. I believe we have to be real with God and he is big enough to take our rants and our distress as we pour out our hearts to him.
We can also express our feelings to a trusted friend, loved one or counsellor. Often just expressing how we feel and being listened to is enough to calm us and get things in perspective.
- Once we’ve expressed it, let it go.
Ephesians 4:26 Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
If we allow our anger to fester it can begin to manifest itself in the ways I have mentioned. That is why we need to deal with it as quickly as we can.
- We need to exercise self-control
Galatians 5:22 The fruit of the Spirit is…self control.
James 1: 19 Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
We don’t have to say everything that is on our mind! Whether it is using our tongue or our keyboards we need to stop and think before we express our words. And stop before we act or react. Wait before replying to that email that annoyed you. Walk away from the person who is winding you up. Whatever you need to do to give yourself time to think, pray and reflect before acting or speaking.
- Take care of our own well-being
1 Corinthians 6:20 Honour God with your body.
Find ways to relieve our stress in a healthy way by living a healthy lifestyle with exercise, good food and times to rest and unwind.
- Deal with unresolved relationship issues
Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
1 Corinthians 13: 5 Love…is not easily angered.
Deal with any grudges, unforgiveness, bitterness that may be adding to your stress. Express your feelings to each other in a safe way while you are calm.
- Walk closely with God.
Romans 12: 1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. As we remain close to Jesus and develop our relationship with him we trust that God will day by day be transforming our minds, our hearts and our wills to make us more like Jesus. And as our lives become more hidden in the love of God, the things that irritate us, annoy us and upset us will become less important to us compared to knowing Jesus and being obedient to his will for our lives. As a result, our lives will become more and more a reflection of his love and as our hearts are changed and transformed, that which overflows from our hearts through our words and actions will become sweeter and more Christ-like.
12 thoughts on “Anger”
There is a lot of good advice here, Carolyn.
You rightly say that we need a capacity for righteous anger against injustice and harmful acts. But I wonder whether such righteous anger ought always to be constructive – aimed at making the situation better – or whether it is legitimate for it also to be destructive – aimed at causing harm to the perpetrators as retributive and/or deterrent punishment.
How does this relate to God’s anger which is mentioned hundreds of times in the bible. As I write this, the third storm in a week is wreaking damage across the UK. We have had strong winds, heavy rain and hailstones, which brings to mind: “’Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury.’” Ezekiel 13:13.
There are other verses that suggest that God’s anger goes far beyond righting injustice:
“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2)
“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” (Revelation 19:15.)
Although in my lifetime there has been a shift in church sermons from talk of divine justice and descriptions of the unimaginable horrors that awaited anyone who wasn’t the right kind of Christian to the emphasis being on a God of love, there is still the underlying threat of “eternal condemnation” for most of humanity. A 2019 survey of over 5,000 Christians across the UK found that 74 percent believed Hell existed. There would be no hope of restorative justice in Hell.
When we are told that an eight-year-old in an African village who is dying in excruciating pain from stomach cancer with no drugs to alleviate her distress is a consequence of God’s anger against Adam’s disobedience that caused us to be born into “a fallen world”, how are we expected to talk of a loving God?
Pavel, you seem to be making it your life’s work to persuade the 74% they are wrong. If they believe in hell then presumably they also believe in Satan, so won’t they simply see you as the devil’s advocate who is out to deprive them of their salvation? Would it not serve the Lord better to be the bearer of good fruit rather than a poisoned chalice?
Back in 1961, J.B. Phillips wrote ‘Your God is too small’ in which he examined views of God that have turned people off and even hardened and hurt many, leading them to abandon any spirituality in the Christian tradition. Traditionalists ignored his warnings. Two generations later, only 6% of UK adults consider themselves “Practising Christians” and in England only 4.7% attend church. What is the balance of our responsibilities between encouraging and sustaining in their current beliefs the 4.7%, the small fraction which is diminishing further year on year, and reaching out to the 95.3%, many of whom have a spiritual hunger which is not satisfied by traditional church teaching, with a more inclusive understanding of the gospel?
Since I was a teenager, far too many years ago, I have not been able to understand why anyone should consider it ‘good news’ that Christians who hold the ‘right’ beliefs will have a wonderful time in Heaven, while the large majority of those who have ever lived will be tortured eternally in Hell. St Thomas Aquinas may have taught that those in Heaven will enjoy the entertainment of watching people being tormented in Hell, but it always seemed to me that, if that were the case, God had got the wrong people in Heaven. How could anyone be happy in Heaven believing that someone they loved was being tortured in Hell? How could one love a God who would allow people to be inflicted with extreme agony throughout eternity? The only reason I could see for worshipping such a God was out of fear of becoming one of his victims.
At a church coffee morning in our village, a self-proclaimed prophet said to a woman who had just lost her son, “Was he a born-again Christian? Because, if he wasn’t, he’s now burning in Hell.” The vicar who overheard the conversation was horrified at the cruelty of the remark and banned the prophet from future coffee mornings. Was the vicar wrong to ban someone who thought she was just having the courage to share ‘gospel facts that had been taught to her’?
How on earth am I depriving anyone of their salvation by suggesting that salvation is much wider and more inclusive than they had previously dreamt of? Is the problem that they want to see themselves as part of a small exclusive group loved by God and that, if salvation were open to many more, they would feel less special? Surely, the suggestion that God’s love and grace are not restricted to a select group is wonderful news. Why would anyone want to believe that someone who has spent their entire life helping other people should be condemned to Hell, because they don’t hold the ‘right beliefs’? Or that a 10-year-old who’d died never having heard of Jesus should be thrust into outer darkness?
A Devil’s advocate is “someone who pretends, in an argument or discussion, to be against an idea or plan that a lot of people support, in order to make people discuss and consider it in more detail.” Is getting people to think more deeply about what beliefs they are proclaiming such a bad thing to be on a discussion site?
One of the most helpful insights I found was a Ted talk by Walter Bruggerman, saying that we can do 3 different things with anger, we can turn it outwards which leads to violence and division, inwards which is equally destructive as it can lead to self loathing and depression, or we can take a leaf from the Psalmist’s approach and turn it over to God – who is loving and big enough to deal with it! As I watch my young toddler grandson having a meltdown, it reminds me that sometimes I am like him, battering my fists and screaming, whilst a loving parent God wraps strong but gentle arms around me until my sobbing subsides and I can face the world again.
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What a beautiful analogy. Thank you.
Well said Pavel! Seems to me that the Methodist Church has a decision to make. Either we watch our attendance dwindle to nothing or find some means of ridding the church of the exclusiveness, judgmentalism, condemnatory attitudes and loveless dogmatism that is driving people away, This may mean rewriting the creeds and the Service Book. As for the matter of anger at this state of affairs I feel it is fully justified, and as I say to those who express the same sentiments – it is better to be mad than sad!
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness, and in all freedom from anger, and forbearance, and steadfastness, and patient endurance, and purity. (St Polycarp)
‘Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.’
For me it is a choice between being angry and sinking into depression. At least while I am angry I am likely to do something and not just sit there pretending it isn’t happening, and trying to persuade myself, like Pangloss, that “All is for the best in the best of possible worlds”. Patient endurance about the rising cost of living is all very well, but it does not put food on the table.
Carolyn makes some very good points, particularly on how we deal with our anger. Taking our frustrations out on those close to us, or even on strangers via social media, may make us feel better, but it’s not very pleasant for the recipients. Every online discussion forum has its Rent-a-Rant reps. Their spleen-venting diatribes tend to get longer and more frequent the angrier they get. What they might not understand is that, far from winning others over to their points of view, many will simply roll their eyes, groan inwardly and switch off as soon as their names appear in the comments.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1
Elizabeth. I listen to the preacher and read comments on blogs sites, even those of “Rent-a-Rant reps”, and reflect that here is a person trying to make sense of life, and moved to place their concerns before us all. What matters to me is whether they exhibit a questioning faith or are trying to force their opinions on me. Yes, the latter are often “Rent-a-Rant reps”, but there are also some with closed minds that deal in “spleen venting diatribes”, who think that theology is defence of the status quo, that they know all there is to know about God, that the “tradition”: is everything, that they are alright and that nothing else matters, or should ever change. The criteria by which I measure the sermon or comment is whether it reflects a questioning faith, and whether it is ethical or not. If the message is responsive to human need, about love, ethical, inclusive and non-judgmental it will receive my full attention. Sometimes I have protested about some social evil and been reviled, ignored, alienated, persecuted or insulted as a consequence. I accept this because I know there are some things that are more important than being liked.
Thanks for this. Would like to ‘correct’ you on one thing – we’re told that we should feel angry when Christians are persecuted for their beliefs but I think it should be made clear that we should feel angry when people of other faiths and none are persecuted for their beliefs!!