When Anger Rears its Ugly Head
Controlling my anger is something that I’ve struggled with for years. When I was younger, I had very little control of my emotions and would often react harshly when frustrated and I’d end up wounding those closest to me.
In the aftermath, I’d be overwhelmed with shame and regret and, in my brokenness with heart in hand, would try and repair the damage I had made.
One day, during my second “poetry phase” in my early thirties, I attempted to describe what that anger looked and felt like inside of me. “Fury’s Chains” was written out of sadness and a bit of discouragement, at a time when I was aching to make sense of the fierce emotions within.
It rages, rages and wretches
Flinging its arms about.
Troubled thoughts and curses
fly into the darkness
in silent, yet deafening shouts.
With a double dose of stinging salt
the tears squeeze from those eyes.
A reddened, moist nose
and gritting, gnashing teeth
hiding the pain you suppress inside.
The monster sleeps from time to time
exhausted from the fight.
But stirring, strengthened
from its restless nap
a jolt reminds you of your plight.
Years and years of tears and fears
trapped in an unending war.
Restricted and restrained
by the lies that bind you,
freedom is an unreachable door.
Blameless you are for the trouble and pain,
You plead for liberation
from this unearned condemnation,
anxious for your voice to be heard.
troubled, and fearing
that your voice
I know there are at least a handful readers out there that can identify with the feelings and images captured in that poem. Most people don’t understand where the root of their anger comes from.
It’s easy to say, “Our sinful nature is the culprit”, but sometimes there are other forces at work.
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I recently watched the first season of “The Sinner” on Netflix which made me reflect on this subject quite a bit. Cora, in an unexpected fit of rage, murders a stranger on the beach in front of her husband and small son.
*SPOILER ALERT* As each episode passes and the mystery unfolds, we discover that Cora’s sudden outburst of fury was rooted in an abuse that had been hidden in her past. A mix of suppressed memory and denial had created a perfect storm.
It’s a sad reality that many people have serious problems with anger and have no idea why or where the rage comes from. We’ve tried to manage it but have only succeded in temporary fixes.
As Chritians we should be able to get a handle on it, right? Aren’t we supposed to be the “spiritual” ones who deal with every situation with patience and love? Sure we are. But, that’s easier said than done.
First things first. There are two kinds of anger. Righteous anger and sinful anger. Let’s take a look at each one.
Righteous anger is justified in situations when an injustice has taken place. Physical, phsycological and sexual abuse, for example. When someone’s rights are violated it is normal to become angry at the injustice. If you’re like me, with this type of anger your protective instinct kicks in and you’re ready to do battle.
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When I watch the local or international news and see the injustices taking place at every level of society my heart starts pumping at a faster rate and I raise my proverbial fist and declare “That’s not right!”.
“So there is such a thing as perfect hatred, just as there is such a thing as righteous anger. But it is a hatred for God’s enemies, not our own enemies. It is entirely free of all spite, rancor and vindictiveness, and is fired only by love for God’s honor and glory.” John Stott
BibleStudyTools.com states that “righteous anger stems from an anger that arises when we witness ‘an offense against God or His Word’. Righteous anger cares about others.”
That’s an important distinction to make. When our anger stems from the desire to watch out for the needs of others, it’s justified.
When our anger arises from the desire to call attention to an offense against God or His Word, it’s justified.
(Just remember that even though feeling righteous anger may be justified, we mustn’t allow that anger to turn into destructive rage.)
When our anger comes from wanting to advance or protect our own selfish agenda, that’s another story.
It is in our human nature to be more preoccupied with our own lives than with God’s righteousness. Therefore, the things that make us angry are, to put it bluntly, idols that we worship. It’s Tim Kellers statement that really drove this home for me.
When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping. When such a thing is threatened, your anger is absolute. Your anger is actually the way the idol keeps you in its service, in its chains. Therefore if you find that, despite all the efforts to forgive, your anger and bitterness cannot subside, you may need to look deeper and ask, ‘What am I defending? What is so important that I cannot live without?’ It may be that, until some inordinate desire is identified and confronted, you will not be able to master your anger. Tim Keller
I had to do some serious soul-searching after reading that statement recently. “What am I defending when I react this way with my child? Why is this so important to me? Am I really justified in my rage?
At the root of sinful anger is pride and selfishness. Righteous anger looks out for others while sinful anger looks out for “me”.
Pinpointing the Idols in Our Lives
Let’s look back at our most memorable anger episodes for a moment. What were the triggers? What were we defending? What did we want to protect?
My husband readily admits that one of his idols used to be his car. The smallest scratch or the slightest dent would send him into a rage. Thankfully, the Lord helped him realize that material possessions aren’t worth the emotions we attach to them.
I still struggle with my biggest idol: my time. Interruptions make me tense and often make me react in ways that hurt those who need me.
What are the idols you possess? Better said, what are the idols that possess you?
Related: Should Christians Pursue Wealth?
While idols may be the root cause of sinful anger, as I mentioned earlier there may be other causes which are beyond our control.
Triggers That Cause Anger
In Cora’s story, her explosive anger episodes stemmed from trauma. It took time and effort on her part and on the part of others who cared for her to discover the root cause and then begin the recovery process.
Besides trauma, there are other triggers we can point to that often cause outbursts of anger. Some common triggers are:
- unmet expectations
We’re often told, “You need to learn how to manage your anger”, without being given any real resources to do it.
Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame. Benjamin Franklin
What the Bible Says About Anger
The Bible tells us to avoid sinful anger at all costs:
“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. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:26, 31
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
for anger resides in the lap of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:9
Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered. Proverbs 22:24
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. Psalm 37:8
Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. Proverbs 14:29
These verses aren’t addressing people who become angry occasionally, but people who are “easily angered”, “quick-tempered” or “hot-tempered”.
How does your family describe you? What are you known for at work or school? How would people describe your personality? How would you describe it?
I’ve had to ask myself these questions and, let me tell you, it wasn’t easy facing myself in the mirror.
Chances are you’re reading this article because you recognize the need to address the anger issues in your own life. To be honest, it wasn’t easy for me to put this together and took me months longer than expected to write it.
Now, what do we do with what we know? In the words of G.I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle”.
Do not say, “I cannot help having a bad temper.” Friend, you must help it. Pray to God to help you overcome it at once, for either you must kill it, or it will kill you. You cannot carry a bad temper into heaven. C. H. Spurgeon
Steps to Defeating Sinful Anger
- Confess it as sin before the Lord.
- Pinpoint the idols and triggers.
- Ask for help with the idols and triggers (in prayer and/or counseling).
- Devote time to reading and memorizing Scripture.
- Allow the “fruit of the Spirit” to replace the “acts of the flesh”.
I can’t stress enough the importance of following these steps. If we don’t have an action plan we’ll never become victorious. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help through a prayer partner, pastor or biblical counselor. God himself provides the right people at the right time.
I want us all to be able to look back one day and say, “I used to be an angry person, but God set me free. Here’s how He did it…”
A Simple Prayer for Weakening the Stronghold of Anger
I found this beautiful prayer at prayer.knowing-jesus.com and thought we could all take this first step together. Pray with me:
Loving Lord, I place that anger and bitterness that I too often harbor in my heart at Your feet and pray that in Your grace, You will expose all that is causing the bitter poison that is lodged within my heart to surface so often, and set me free from it, I pray.
Lord, I confess all my anger and bitterness, and know that when I allow this to surface in my heart it breaks the fellowship we have together. I know that when I confess my anger, You are faithful and just to forgive the outbursts of anger in my heart and to cleanse me of all unrighteousness, for which I praise Your name. But Lord, I desire that I am set free from this pollution within my heart, so that the root of anger shrivels within. I ask You to examine me and root out all that is not pleasing in Your sight.
Thank You, in Jesus’ name,
See more prayers for anger here.
Resources for Overcoming Sinful Anger
God wants to help us in our brokenness. He is for us, not against us. His desire is for us to be whole and to flourish in our life with Him as we conform to the image of Jesus, His Son.
I’ve put together a short list of articles and podcasts that provide more insight into the topic of Anger. The more we understand, the more we’ll have the tools we need to grapple with this area of our lives.
- How Can We Be Angry and Not Sin?
- Sinful Anger vs Righteous Anger
- When Your Anger Gets the Best of You
- How to Overcome Anger and Live a Joy-Filled Life
- What to do When Chronic Illness Makes You Angry
- How to Handle Being Mad: Practical Strategies in Anxious Times
- How I Stopped Being Angry at My Family
- Angry at God? He Can Take It.
- How to Handle Anger in 3 God-Pleasing Ways
- When Righteous Anger Descends to Carnal Wrath
- What Does “Be Angry and Sin Not” Really Mean?
- Overcoming Your Anger
- The Danger of Anger
- The Healing of Anger
I pray you are victorious!
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