Looking at the state of the world around us, we might be forgiven for our anger. Whether it be affairs at home or abroad, there is plenty for us to lament over, to become impassioned by, and justifiably to get angry about.
But the Bible warns against the perils of anger, and in many places explicitly forbids it. For example, if we skim through Proverbs, we come away with the impression that we mustn’t get angry at all. This ban seems downright offensive to our modern sensibilities:
Those with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offence(Proverbs 19:11)
Overlooking offence? Are you kidding me?
Jesus and the early church after him continued in the same vein as Proverbs. In fact, Jesus took the destructive nature of anger so seriously that he considered it similar to murder (Matthew 5:21-26). The book of James, full of practical wisdom on how to follow Jesus, says ‘you must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness’ (James 1:19-20).
All the rage
Hang on a minute, I hear you interject. Didn’t Jesus get angry? And surely, if Jesus could be angry, then so can we?
You’re right. Jesus did get angry.
You’re probably thinking of the famous story of when Jesus cleansed the Jerusalem temple because it had become a ‘marketplace’ instead of a place of prayer and worship. But Jesus got angry more than once.
Remember Jesus’ heated rebuke of Satan when he was tempted, or his impassioned tone when saying ‘get behind me’ to Peter. Jesus didn’t have much nice to say about the Pharisees and scribes either (Matthew 23). Finally, consider how Jesus was angered and embittered by the untimely death of his beloved friend Lazarus (John 11). All these stories show that Jesus got angry.
So how do we navigate this tension between, on the one hand, the Bible’s ban on anger and on the other hand, the anger exhibited by Jesus – the very image of God we seek to emulate? Is it OK to be angry or not?
Taming your temper
The start of my answer lies in a verse like Ephesians 4:26: ‘in your anger, do not sin.’
Read the verse carefully. It doesn’t say, ‘when you’re angry, you sin’ or ‘being angry is sinful.’ Though the verse does warn against the real risk of falling into sin when angry, it also implies that it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible, somehow, to be angry and yet not sin.
Next, we should consider the kind of anger Jesus shows. Contrary to our own anger, which often leads to actions that are destructive and dehumanising, Jesus’ anger always seeks to protect and uphold that which is good and true – even when that intention isn’t obvious to others.
Finally, as we follow Jesus and experience the transformation that follows, we will also learn to channel our anger, rightfully felt, towards good and true ends. We will still be angered by evil and injustice, and we’ll still feel compelled to overcome it, but we will learn how to ‘overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:21).