According to the Bible, anger is an emotion that attempts to control but can also be used as a red flag that justice is needed.
Anger is perhaps the most misunderstood emotion that God gives to us. Often I ask clients which emotions they label as “bad,” and most of the time, they say “anger.” However, I believe that most of us confuse the God-given emotion of anger with the reactions to anger, which is what we associate most with that feeling.
Anger, like all emotions, is the physical reaction to something we have seen, heard, or thought about that appears unjust or unfair. Some people feel anger by a tightening in their chest, quickened breath, a punch in the gut, or feeling “hot” with their blood pressure rising. The way we react to anger can be yelling or rolling our eyes or blaming or shaming, but those things are not the emotion of anger itself.
We even often misuse Bible verses in our definitions of anger. Anger, according to the Bible, is clearly something we all feel. God wants us to know how to handle it in a way that brings restoration and justice rather than guilt and shame.
- “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly.”–Proverbs 14:29
- “Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret—it only causes harm”–Psalm 37:8
- “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”–James 1:19-20
- “‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath…”–Ephesians 4:26
- “Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools.”–Ecclesiastes 7:9
- “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, [a]clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”–Ephesians 4:31
It appears that the “anger” mentioned in these verses is an action or reaction, not necessarily the feeling of anger. Looking at some of the Hebrew and Greek meanings of anger, we find that many of these references mean…
- To be angry
- Provoke to wrath
Anger, according to the Bible, is to focus on our reactions to anger and how we can learn to control them.
What Lies Come with Anger?
Some of the common lies about anger within society and even the Church include but are not limited to…
- Anger is bad
- Anger is uncontrollable
- Anger is something we need to get rid of
- Anger is the only option sometimes
- Anger is our enemy
- Anger is excusable
- Anger is frowned upon by God
As Christians, one of the biggest lies that come with anger is the shame we have for feeling it..
God gave us the ability to feel anger because He also feels anger. His, of course, is perfect because His justice is perfect. Ours is not. When we look at anger from this perspective, it isn’t something that is only associated with sinful responses. God shows righteous anger, according to the Bible, in response to unrighteousness (see 1 Kings 11:9, Psalm 7:11).
People such as Nehemiah also show righteous anger (Nehemiah 5:6). The way God responds in His anger is something we can learn from in our responses, for the “Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8).
3 Ways to Respond Righteously to Anger
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”⸺Proverbs 16:32
This verse is one of the most helpful for teaching us how to respond to anger and shows the power of practicing self-control. “Slow to anger” is used to describe God’s anger throughout the Bible and a way to exhort believers to do the same (James 1:19).
- Pause and breathe.
This is one of the easiest ways to be “slow to anger.” When something makes you angry, take a second for a few deep breaths before responding.
This will instantly slow your body down and give your “logical” brain (cerebral cortex) a time to catch up with your “emotional” brain (amygdala). The amygdala responds much quicker than the cerebral cortex, so pausing helps you respond not just emotionally but also logically. We want emotions to influence our choices but not control our choices.
Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Taking time to validate what you’re feeling will help you understand yourself better, help you determine what environment or situations cause you to feel that way, and help prevent you from shaming yourself for feeling that way over “nothing.”
There’s usually a reason why we are upset, and typically a valid reason, but we often push it aside or excuse it before validating it. Explaining also gives you a reason for how to respond.
- Pray and make a choice.
Finally, after breathing and explaining, pray over it and ask for discernment. God cares about why you’re angry and wants to give you wisdom and discernment for how to respond. He can correct your thoughts and remind you of what is righteous anger and what isn’t.
When we are slow to anger, it gives room for God to move in our hearts before we move in our actions. Once we have asked for His help, we are able to more clearly make a choice on how to respond to emotions.
Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us that in everything,“by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” These requests can be for help in our responses!
Here's What You Need to Know About Anger
Anger is something that we can use, not be used by. It isn’t some irrational or crazy reaction but rather has a purpose. This feeling isn’t innately bad, and we usually have a reason to feel angry because something feels unjust.
However, our view of justice isn’t always aligned with God’s and so we must ask for discernment. The good news is that we don’t have to sin when we feel angry. We have a choice on how we respond with the help of the Holy Spirit! Taking time to notice our anger and what causes it can help us express it in a helpful or productive way, not only for ourselves but also for others around us.
Learning to use our anger versus letting it use us can create great opportunities for growth and maturity to reflect God’s character. We don’t have to feel ashamed for our anger, remembering that God doesn’t ever want us to live in shame. Like any emotion, it can be used for God’s glory as we practice self-control and use discernment from the Holy Spirit.
“‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”⸺Ephesians 4:26-27
Written by Andrea Cleek MA, PLPC, NCC
Andrea Cleek is a counselor at Abundant Life and is a PLPC, trained in EMDR, and graduated with an MA in Counseling from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Andrea concentrates on clients age 13 and up, individuals and couples. Andrea works with individuals stuck in negative thought patterns, and clients who struggle with depression, anxiety, and have a history of trauma and/or neglect.