Among the human emotions, one has taken up a considerable amount of ink: anger. The study of human history is almost akin to the study of this emotion. Diss songs have been written, regrettable tweets have been sent out, and wars have been fought—all fuelled by anger. A reflection on what transpires during our moments of anger leads us to conclude that we get angry when something we value is threatened or violated.
At the root of our anger is what we love.
The reason I get angry when my favorite team is losing is because I value a good match and most importantly for my team to win. And when something gets in the way of this, I can’t help but get angry. Our anger reveals to us what we value, what is precious to us, what we hold in high regard, and what we desire. At the root of our anger is what we love. It might surprise us, but the Bible leads us to read this interpretation of anger all the way up to God.
What Makes God Angry?
The Bible teaches us all through that what God values above all else is his glory, the honour of his name, his praise and majesty.
Consider the following texts from the Bible:
- “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” (Ephesians 1:4-6)
- “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory” (Isaiah 43:6-7).
The texts above demonstrate that at the centre of all that God does, including his saving and creation work, is his glory. Therefore, we would expect that God’s wrath is directed at those that violate what he values the most: his glory. However, due to the sinful anger that forms the majority of our experience, one might wonder how God can be angry yet remain holy and sinless?
The centre of all that God does is his glory.
Why Is God’s Anger Appropriate?
1. God’s Primary Concern is His Glory
God created everything in the universe, seen and unseen. Therefore he is the most valuable being in existence. It is in keeping with his good nature to seek the highest good. Thus Psalm 90:11 asks: “Who understands the power of your anger? Your wrath matches the fear that is due to you.”
God created everything. Therefore he is the most valuable being in existence.
To fear God means to honour and pay homage to him. This is the proper response to who God is, reverential awe. Thus God’s wrath is directed at sin, the refusal to fear him. Every sin is an affront to the glory of God.
2. God’s Anger is Proportionate to the Value of what it Protects
Psalm 90:11 also teaches us that God’s anger matches his glory. If his wrath were less than the zeal for his glory, God would not be in keeping with his nature. On the other hand, God’s wrath cannot surpass the zeal for his glory. For God’s glory is infinite. This means that those who fail to honour God violate that which is of infinite value. Therefore they face infinite anger.
We have all violated God’s glory, devaluing what God prizes most.
This is clearly bad news. For “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We have all violated God’s glory, devaluing what God prizes most. Because of this, we rightly face the wrath of God. The wonderful news of the gospel is that we can be spared this righteous anger through faith in Christ. If we are ever to have a right view of anger, we must recognise how God treated us in his own anger (Romans 5:8).
Assessing Our Own Anger
In Ephesians 4:26 Paul commands Christians to “be angry and do not sin”. It is an imperative to manage the emotion of anger within the bounds of godliness. The Christian is not commanded to cease from anger but to be righteous in their stewardship of anger. Unlike God, our anger is often the result of valuing the wrong things as well as being imbalanced.
1. Our Anger is Often Rooted in Sin
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? 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 4:1–2).
We become angry when someone gets in the way our desires.
The orientation of our hearts’ desires (“passions” in the text above) are bent away from God, towards the things of this world. Because of this, we are always tempted to desire other things ahead of God and his glory: the praises of men; money, comfort, and power; and inappropriate relationships. We become angry when someone gets in the way of ourselves and our desires. Unlike sinful anger, righteous anger is provoked at the violation of what God loves and values.
2. Our Anger Tends to be Disproportionate
Contrast with God, we sin in our anger because it is often disproportionate to the value of that which has been violated. Our anger seeks to convince us that we are the most important person in that moment. Therefore those that offend us deserve the harshest punishment available. It raises our perceived moral ground to stratospheric heights.
Our anger seeks to convince us that we are the most important person in that moment.
One of the true tests of disproportionate anger is the length of time that we remain angry. In Ephesians 4:26 Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin”. But then he adds, “do not let the sun go down on your anger”. Time is a helpful unit as we consider whether we are sinning in our anger or not. Are we holding onto a grudge from years past. Have we allowed anger to turn into resentment and bitterness in our hearts?
How to Manage Your Anger
Before managing our anger, we all need to confess that we have sinned. As we do this we must ask God for his help, teaching and training us in self-control and humility. For most of us, there is reconciliation to be made after failing to manage our emotions. But we don’t stop there.
1. Invite Counsel
What do we do after we have prayerfully searched our hearts, and reach the conclusion that our anger is not misplaced? How are we to respond to what we can sense is righteous anger? Firstly, we must be careful before we become certain that we have reached a correct conclusion. It is important that we remember, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Therefore we must seek the counsel of fellow believers and invite them to assess our anger.
We must seek the counsel of fellow believers and invite them to assess our anger.
2. Avoid Under-reacting
It may be that we are correctly stirred by injustice, abuse, corruption, gross evil, or culturally acceptable practices that hurt people (such as female genital cutting and child marriage). Surely we cannot remain apathetic to these ills. Our zeal for the will of God to “be done on earth as it is in heaven” compels us to act. This is the usefulness of righteous anger.
Zeal for the will of God to ‘be done on earth as it is in heaven’ compels us to act.
While we often sin by over-reacting in anger, we must guard our hearts against ‘under-reacting’. We should be encouraged when we are stirred to anger by the right things and to the right proportion.
3. Leverage Anger to Love Others
As Christians, we should respond to this by seeking ways to leverage our anger for the good of others. This may mean calling our neighbors to a meeting to address the lack of speed bumps or starting an organisation that will help the poor.
What angers us may point us to something that we need to leverage for the glory of God. Righteous, well-leveraged anger will lead us to pray, go on missions, stand against injustices, or even lovingly confront those that have wronged us.
Is there a societal ill that has been provoking you to anger? What are some ways that are available to you that can be leveraged for the good of those around you?
Turn Wrongs into Opportunities for God’s Glory
As we saw above, God responds to his anger constructively and redemptively. He points us to our wrongs then proceeds to redeem us in his mercy. So should we! We ought to seek to bring good out of our anger and mend our broken world, according to the opportunities that God has given us. As David Powlison has helpfully put it, “Godly anger constructively engages what is wrong in a way that is patient, merciful, forgiving, and honest in tackling what needs tackling”.