- Religion and Philosophy
Can Anger Ever Be Good?
Is it wrong to feel angry?
Do the truly righteous ever get angry? Is anger a stumbling block that causes Christians to fall, or can it be used for good? Like many of life’s questions, we can find the answer in the Bible. From deep inside his prison cell, Paul penned his letter to the Ephesians. We see in chapter 4 that he urged them to live a life worthy of the calling they had received. He warned them against falling back into the routines of their old selves: to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness….in your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. In those verses Paul quoted the Psalm of David chapter 4:4: In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
Both verses take it for granted that people will get angry sometimes. It would be pretty difficult to live on this planet and not get angry. Whether you’re on the interstate and some knucklehead swipes dangerously by you on the right, or you’re at work and you have to clean up a coworker’s mistakes; you’re going to feel anger. Maybe your computer is running slow or your phone’s autocorrect won’t let you type a decent sentence; you’re going to feel annoyance. Perhaps your roommate left a mess, your husband didn’t return your phone call or your child didn’t do her homework; you’re going to experience frustration. All of which is normal and natural.
The Bible doesn’t say “do not feel angry” the Bible says “in your anger do not sin.” Anger clouds judgement. If a person loses their temper at a dropped call and flings their cellphone into a river, what has he gained? The five seconds of satisfaction it may bring is quickly outweighed by the cost and inconvenience of having to replace the phone. That may be an expensive example, but one that’s easily remedied. Worse still, is the anger that can destroy a relationship. When provoked we may lash out at the person, rather than their deed. You may say to your spouse, “You’re such a selfish person; you never give, you only take.” Such a sentence is destructive. What choice, then, do they have but to go on the defensive and defend their honor? In the first place, it is highly unlikely that the person never gives. If nothing else, they likely participate in the usual gift-giving holidays.
Destructive comments invite conflict, focusing instead on a constructive statements can alleviate conflict and facilitate results. We should strive to build others up, rather than tear them down. When we are angry we are more likely to tear others down. We should heed the words of Jewish poet Solomon Ibn Gabirol, “I can retract what I did not say, but I cannot retract what I already have said.” We will all experience anger, some more readily than others, but we mustn’t sin in our anger. The ideal is to become slow to anger and quick to forgive. As James wrote in the first chapter in the book which bears his name, verses 19 and 20; My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Anger can cause us to stumble on our walk with God and our walk with each other. And far worse than the broken relationships that it can cause, is the violence. It doesn’t take much to go from yelling at a person to striking them, from fuming at a neighbor to plotting revenge. While anger is a natural emotion, it is one we must monitor.
Anger can cause us to stumble on our walk with God and our walk with each other. And far worse than the broken relationships that it can cause, is the violence. It doesn’t take much to go from yelling at a person to striking them, from fuming at a neighbor to plotting revenge.
Though normal, it may be a little silly to get frustrated when your car won’t start or your wife left the cap off the toothpaste. But can there be such a thing as righteous anger? When a terrorist detonates a bomb on a commuter train, grief and anger both can be the appropriate response. It is natural to feel anger when a child molester walks free or a nurse abuses their patient. King David certainly experienced that kind of anger. In Psalm 139 he calls on God to kill the wicked, and proclaims that he hates those who hate God. Just a few chapters earlier, Psalm 137:8-9 an unnamed psalmist calls a blessing on anyone who will seize infant Babylonians and slam their heads against rocks. It would seem that such gruesome infanticide has no place in the Bible, yet here it is, in the middle of the book. King David and the psalmist were angry, they cried out for justice against the invading Babylonian hordes. Babylon cruelly murdered innocent people and David and the psalmist wanted them punished. They saw the casual cruelty and brutality of the Babylonians and they wanted vengeance.
Can that kind of anger ever be used for good, or will it simply fester and grow? It is worth noting that though David wrote that he hated his enemies, his personal history showed him to be merciful. He forgave both Saul and Absalom, two men (the latter of whom was his own son) who actively tried to murder him. There was another Biblical hero who forgave; one who was stripped, whipped, and hung on a cross to die. With his dying breath he forgave his transgressors. Anger is natural. Mercy is better.
Anger can be an appropriate response to an injustice, especially if you allow it to lead you down a positive path. Anger at a child molester who serves a short prison term may lead one to fight for stronger sentencing for sexual predators. Anger at a politician for allowing the dumping of lead into drinking water, can prompt political changes. We can own our emotions but we must strive to control them. And we would do well to heed the apostle Paul in Romans 12:19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” says the Lord.
Though David wrote that he hated his enemies, his personal history showed him to be merciful. He forgave both Saul and Absalom, two men who actively tried to murder him.
© 2017 Anna Watson