Is your anger righteous?

If we were to carefully examine ourselves by surveying the whole Bible, we’d easily come to a conclusion that we’re an angry people. From Cain slaying his brother Abel in Genesis to the angry nations being judged by God in Revelation, Scripture depicts anger in an explicit way.

Contrary to the truth, we’re quick to conclude that our daily outbursts of anger are justified. We’re quick to label our anger as righteous, and rarely admit that we’re wrong. But that’s the thing with anger—it blinds us.

The fruits of our angry nature can be clearly seen at our roads, workplaces, homes and even hospitals. Everywhere we find a group of people or even a single person, anger is present. We might not see it, but it’s there. Anger is like a serpent lurking in the shadows always ready to bite.  But what is anger?

Defining anger

Many people think of anger in a behavioural sense, like rage or fury. But that kind of view neglects the fact that it’s possible to be angry and not display fury. Angry people can either fight or take a flight. By this I mean when angry we can become loud and furious or we can simply be quiet and pull back. Thankfully the Bible depicts anger in all kinds of forms, and therefore a good biblical definition can be developed without overemphasising emotional rampage.

There are basically two kinds of human anger displayed in the Bible—righteous anger and sinful anger. It’s important to note that sinful anger is the most common even among Christians.

We can postulate a general biblical definition of sinful anger from James 4:1-2. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?” Apostle James asks, “is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

James mentions four important attributes of sinful anger. The first is that it begins in the heart. This means that our outward response is merely a display of what is already within. Secondly, anger can be seen in our response to a person or situation. This means that anger is something that is directed somewhere and doesn’t just float in the air. Thirdly, anger is as a result of what we perceive to be wrong. This means that anger is a negative response. Lastly, the reason we become angry is that what we perceive to be wrong hinders us from getting what we desire.

We can, therefore, define sinful anger as a negative response that springs out from the heart and directed against the perceived evil which hinders us from getting what we desire. The most important thing to grasp is that at the core of sinful anger is our own desires and passions—it’s all about what we want. So, if something hinders us from getting what we want, we react negatively.

“Sinful anger says my will be done. Righteous anger says God’s will be done.” tweet

For anger to be considered sinful, our desires don’t necessarily have to be sinful. That’s where we mostly get it wrong. We think because what we want is not sin, then we can be furious. What separates righteous anger from sinful anger is that at the core of righteous anger is what God desires. Sometimes we may think that what we desire is what God desires, but if we were to examine ourselves carefully, we’ll get to see that it’s actually about us and what we want, and we just dress up our desires with God’s desires. Sinful anger says my will be done. Righteous anger says God’s will be done.

How to fight sinful anger?

There’s hope for sinfully angry Christians like us. James 4 doesn’t only help us get to the root problem of our sinful anger, it also lays out a strategy for conquering habits built on it. In verses 4 to 10, apostle James lists a few important considerations and resolves we need to make in order to wage war against our sinful anger.

 

  1. God hates sinful anger

James makes it clear that God hates sinful anger. He doesn’t delight in us yelling at each other whenever we don’t get what we want (vv. 4-5). Like any other sin, God wants us to realise that our sinful anger needs to be put to death (Eph. 4:31). That’s the mentality we need to have—death to our sinful anger.

 

  1. God gives grace to the humble

There’s grace for those who realise that their sinful anger is actually against God, and humbly repent and submit to him (vv. 6-10). For us to get to a point where we humble and submit ourselves to God, we need to realise that we’re not victims. James tells us that we’re sinners who need to mourn and weep.

 

  1. We need to repent

Whenever we respond with sinful anger in any situation, the problem is us. The situation merely exposed what was in our hearts. One of the biggest mistakes we make when confronted with our sinful anger is shifting the blame. We don’t want to believe that our anger is actually sinning against God. We accuse people around us for pressing our buttons. We point out situations that pushed us to our limits. Often we say it’s because we’ve had a rough day and are tired. We blame the devil. Basically, we believe that we’re angry because of everything else but us.

We need to stop making excuses. True repentance comes with accepting that we’re at the centre of our sin. It comes with realising that the root cause of our anger is our need to be God. We want comfort and things to turn out as we plan. We want people to listen to us. We want others to follow our rules. We want to sovereignly rule our world. The problem is us. Therefore, James says, “Cleanse your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).

Lesetja Lekoloane

Lesetja Lekoloane is a BSc graduate from the University of Pretoria. He’s the founder and board chair of Eternal Passion, a Christ-centred Christian organisation which aims to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in Africa. He’s also the author of "Racism – A biblical viewpoint" (2016).