Our society is currently filled with a lot of anger due to a conglomeration of current events.
And so many other things.
Anger seeps into conversation like the serpent snuck into the garden of Eden. Anger destroys relationships. Anger destroys people.
I’ve struggled with anger my whole life. It builds up quickly and overtakes my rational mind like the flick of a match. A year ago I started taking a mood stabilizer in order to abate my anger. Someone with manic-depression is often seen as one with high highs and low lows. Elated or depressed. There’s a darker side to mania, though, and that’s usually where my mind goes when mania sneaks in. Anger.
Manic-depression is a mood disorder. It affects different moods in different people. It’s not an excuse for anger. There is no excuse. It does mean, though, that I have to work extra hard to control it.
The rising anger in our society has caused me to secure my environment. I have cleaned my social media of my anger triggers. I now see posts primarily about babies, furry animals, gardening, pickles (yes, I’m in a pickle group), bullet journalling and the local business community. News headlines are not a part of my life. Sure, I keep up with the news on a general basis, but in my time when my mind is calm.
A passage caught my eye recently that provoked my curiosity about what God says about anger.
Does this mean it’s ok to be angry? Yes. And no.
God’s anger is different from our anger. In Hebrew the primary word for God’s anger is ‘aph. It means “long-suffering” or “forbearing.” It’s an anger of anguish; of holding back from exercising His wrath.
God had a lot to be angry about throughout the Old Testament. Time and time again His people ran from Him. Blasphemed His name. Heaped sin upon sin. And yet. God was patient with His children. In several places a passage began “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…” (Numbers 14:18, Psalm 86:15, Jonah 4:2, and Nahum 1:3). God is the epitome of perfection. Though His anger is righteous, He holds back from unleashing it out of the love He has for those hurting Him. He does deal with those who sin against Him, but in His perfect time with intent to redirect His people toward Him.
The Greek and Hebrew words for our anger are different from God’s ‘af. In fact, there are a few different words to describe it.
Our Righteous Anger
We have permission to feel anger. When someone has done us wrong, anger is a natural emotion. Described by the Hebrew ragaz or the Greek orgē (which is the root of some other similar words) meaning “agitation” or “agitation of the soul,” or “perturbed.” This is an emotion elicited by another person or circumstance. This type of anger is warranted when someone has sinned against us or something unfortunate has happened, but is not to be acted upon.
This is the anger from Psalm 4:4 that peaked my attention. It’s also the anger in Ephesians 4:26. In both of these passages we are headed to not take sinful action on our anger. We are also commanded to not rest in it. Many people look at the Ephesians passage to mean that if we become angry at some point during the day we should not go to bed until the anger is gone. In delving deeper I find that it actually means that we shouldn’t rest or stew in our anger. We need to find a way to cope with it.
In my experience, anger isn’t often neutralized in the course of the day. In fact, there are things that have happened to me that I’m still angry about, and rightly so, but the Lord has given me peace that He has it under control, so I am not tempted to sin in this anger. I have chosen not to stew in it. In some cases we need to take action to right a wrong, like going to a person who has caused anger in search of reconciliation. This anger should move us toward a solution, not sin.
So, the sin is not the anger itself but how we respond to the anger leads us towards or away from sin.
Our Unrighteous Anger
Another form of anger is, in itself, sin. It is an anger that comes from sin and fuels sin. This is the type of anger I’m seeing often in social media where someone stokes the fire of a hot button issue to see a person from the other side squirm or they respond to a comment in a way that stirs up anger amongst other commenters. It’s an anger that provokes anger. This is thymos, a Greek word for “indignation,” “fierceness,” or “wrath.” This is the type of anger I’m trying desperately to avoid because I’m so easily triggered by it.
In the New Testament thymos is included among a list of other sins (2 Corinthians 12:20, Galatians 5:20, and Colossians 3:8). In each of these passages, Paul is calling people away from acting in the flesh and into the power of the Holy Spirit.
Avoiding Sin in Anger
Moving from agitation (orgē) to indignation (thymos) is a seamless progression that can be avoided and God gives us instruction as to how. It’s all about how we respond to a negative situation. Responding with a “soft answer” (Proverbs 15:1). Being a parent that does not provoke their children but leads by example of self discipline (Ephesians 6:4). Be unified in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). It’s our responsibility to exercise self control and avoid sin.
Is anger itself a sin? Not always, but anger causes sin and God will deal with us accordingly (Matthew 5:21-22). Our best course of action is to avoid responding in anger and avoid stirring up anger.
What makes you angry?
A boss or co-worker?
A family member or friend?
Ask yourself if your anger is warranted and whether it is causing you to sin. Do not provoke it and do not rest in it. Do not allow anger to destroy relationships or yourself. Ask Jesus to fill you with the Holy Spirit that you might have self control and act in love.