April 11, 2010

To Live is Christ — understanding anger

Whether irritation or outright rage, I tend to think that every time I am angry, I am out of the will of God. However, I need to remember these verses:
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
God gets angry so being angry is not automatically a selfish response to something. However, Christian counselor and author, Jay Adams says, “Sinful anger probably is involved in 90 per cent of all counseling problems,” including secret, unconfessed anger against the Lord.

That latter category is when I don’t like my circumstances. I might blame people, but God is sovereign and in control of what happens to me, so I am really angry against Him because He is not letting me have what I want.

Anger is deadly in more ways than one. It can rob me of my joy, ruin my relationships with people, and keep me from my Bible and prayer. It can also affect my physical health and put me in danger of all sorts of illnesses. For these reasons, most psychologists and therapists, including some Christian ones, believe that all anger is wrong. They tell Christian parents never to show anger or let their children show anger. However, Ken Campbell, in his book, Those Ugly Emotions: How to Manage Your Emotions, says, “ . . . but they are mistaken because there is a righteous and legitimate anger.”

How can I know the difference? The Bible offers examples and exhortations. Christian writers have distilled the differences into various descriptions.

Lou Priolo says that if my anger is due to a recognition that God is offended by another’s behavior, that anger is righteous. This means someone else is violating God’s revealed will and the Holy Spirit who lives in me is angry — and I feel His anger. David Powlison puts it this way: righteous anger is when God doesn’t get what He wants and His will is violated. This anger is motivated by a sincere love for God and it happens rarely.

Most of the time, anger is not righteous. Powlison says sinful anger happens when I don’t get what I want, my will is violated, and I’m motivated by a love of some idolatrous desire. It is all about me being the lord of my life and having my own way.

Ken Campbell adds that anger is wrong when it is directed against a fellow Christian and leads to hostility and a desire to see him punished or humiliated (Matthew 5:21–22). Whenever my anger produces a desire to harm others, it is wrong.

Campbell also says any anger that results in a loss of self-control is wrong (Proverbs 29:11, 20, 22). He adds that this happens most often in the home because if we vent outside the home – against a boss or other authority – punishment or penalty or shame can result. He points out that anger is wrong when it’s ‘just natural’ because my fallen nature is depraved.

Lou Priolo says that sinful anger is the result of not having my personal desires met and most Christians know that without being told! If someone prevents me from having what I want and I am even mildly ticked about it, I’m immediately convicted by the Holy Spirit that my attitude is sinful.

Priolo adds that it is possible to have both righteous anger and sinful anger residing in my heart at the same time. That is why I need to be cautious and never respond to whatever is happening until I am certain that my motives are pure and I understand the source of my anger.

The Bible clearly agrees with these writers. As today’s verses say, a wise person may get angry, but they will check that anger and stop himself from sinning. Then, to prevent a backlog of negative emotions, or a deepening rift in relationships, or the possibility of losing a lot of sleep, the Bible also gives very solid advice: to deal with it before going to bed at night.

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