Part of dissecting what is happening in our hearts when we are angry is to be aware of the lies that anger tells us. I don’t want to downplay or underestimate the very real grief involved in the loss you have experienced, but it’s vital to make a distinction. Grief is a natural response to defeat. Anger is a decision you have made. If you go through the following checklist it should help you put a lid on sinful anger and give you progress toward moving forward:
1) “I Deserve to be Angry!”
The root of this attitude is pride, pure and simple. Anytime you say you deserve anything whatsoever, pride is a major player in that drama. By whose standard do you deserve to be angry? In the mind of the angry person, it is by the standard that it was precious little me which has been hurt.
One might even be tempted to say, “This is righteous indignation.” We have a wonderful comparison of two situations in which Jesus had a choice about anger. Of course, in His anger He never sinned, but think about this contrast.
In situation number one, Jesus (on two different occasions) cleansed the temple of God by turning over money changers’ tables and driving the animal sellers out. Clearly, this was righteous indignation. But what was the issue involved? Jesus was defending the good name of His father and His father’s house. In the second situation, when Jesus himself is being accused and tortured, He never displayed anger at all. In fact, He willingly took this abuse ultimately all the way to the cross, asking God to forgive those who were doing this to Him. Certainly, if anyone ever deserved to be angry at what was happening to Him, it was Jesus. It is a lie to say that you deserve to be angry. Scripture doesn’t support this and the gospel doesn’t support this.
2) “No one understands me.”
A big part of the need to feel angry is the idea that you are all alone and that no one else could really get what is happening in your heart. I personally wasted significant amounts of time letting this particular thought fester. From a human standpoint, you literally may not know anyone who can really relate to what you have gone through. If that is the case, then it was God’s plan for you to walk with Him and Him alone through this. The short answer to the lie “No one understands you” is: so what? That doesn’t somehow give you the divine right to stay angry with the hope that others will see how angry you are and somehow empathize with you more. That is a fantasy. If no one understands you, then the Lord must be all the more precious to you because He certainly understands.
Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that Christ can sympathize with us perfectly, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
3) “This anger is going to help.”
Now I know that you don’t literally tell yourself that anger will help, but the most insidious of lies are the ones we don’t hear directly. If your anger is not going to help, then why are you still angry? Honestly, what do you think will happen positively as a result of your anger? Seriously ponder that question for a moment. I have asked this question of myself when I am angry and of others when they are angry.
Most often, the honest answer is that we want attention— we want others to pay attention to us and to express empathy, but our anger has just the opposite effect. On the other hand, God orders you to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Eph 4:31). Anger will ultimately have no positive outcome and in fact will lead you to sin. In Psalm 37, God gives a clear command and the consequences of disobedience, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” Anger comes out in your words, your actions, your facial expressions. It will hurt you and those you love because your anger will cause pain to you and to those you love.
4) “I can’t help being angry.”
Say this five times aloud to yourself in the mirror. It is my hope that you look and feel like a total wimp by the time you are done. This is the statement of a pathetic victim, not a child of the living God in whom the Holy Spirit resides.
The preacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools” (Eccl 7:9). To say you can’t help being angry is to completely deny the power of the Holy Spirit to produce the promised fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).
Whatever vestiges of anger you may be hanging onto, whether daily rage or insidious remnants, take it to the throne of grace and leave it there.
Let it go, saint.
– Pastor Steve Swartz (M.Div., The Master’s Seminary)
Teaching elder at Grace Bible Church in Bakersfield and is the author of Shattered Shepherds. Steve has been married to his wife Sylvia for 25 years and is the father of four children.