There’s a teaching in some circles that Christians should never get angry. The Bible instructs us to rid ourselves of anger and fits of rage, and if we do get angry, some would tell us that it’s because we felt like we were entitled to something and didn’t get it. The solution is to “surrender our rights” to God, thus removing the cause for anger, and remain calm and cheerful with a good Christian smile on our face no matter what. If we’re angry, it obviously means we’re doing it wrong.
I first came across this idea as a teen. There was a news report back then about a Jehovah’s Witness family that were refusing to allow their child to get a life-saving medical treatment because it involved getting a blood transfusion, and JWs have a weird perspective on Acts 15:29 that makes them opposed to blood transfusions.
The thought that a mother and father could be so callous as to refuse life-saving treatment for their own child angered me, and I mentioned this to an older Christian in my church.
Their reaction surprised me. Rather than agree that this was indeed an injustice, they rebuked me for getting upset about it and told me “Don’t be angry”.
I was particularly not good at talking to people as a child, even into my teens, and to this day I don’t react quickly when surprised. I couldn’t put the words together to say what I was actually thinking, and didn’t even fully grasp what their objection to how I was reacting really was, but even then I felt like this whole train of thought was heading in the wrong direction.
Since then I’ve encountered the same idea in other spheres of life. Christians shouldn’t get angry.
Quite what these people make of the cleansing of the Temple I don’t know. Apparently even then, Jesus can’t really have been angry, because we know anger is sinful, right?
Ok, what if they’re right, and Jesus wasn’t really angry even then? Picture the scene: the Son of Man kicking over tables and chasing out the money changers with a whip, and all with a serene, beatific smile on His face. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I find that image actively scary. The natural reaction is that either He’s buzzed on something potent and illegal, or there’s something seriously psychotic in His makeup. Either way, He’s hardly the merciful Saviour we know and love.
Anger is a natural human reaction. Because we are told in the Bible on occasion that God Himself gets angry, we do not have a leg to stand on if we insist that anger is always sinful or that Christians should not get angry. For example, in Numbers 11 we read that “the Lord became exceedingly angry” at the ungrateful, complaining attitude of His people when they grumbled about the manna He provided for them and wanted meat instead.
We read also of other occasions on which God gets angry; it’s a mistake to try to paint this as His normal emotional state, but He does, on occasion, get angry. Even in His self-declaration to Moses, He proclaims that He is slow to anger, not incapable of it.
The human capacity for anger, then, is not a result of the Fall but an intrinsic part of the Divine image in us. Had the Fall not happened, there might not have been reason for anger, but there would still have been the capacity for it.
This is because anger is a response to a situation which says “I feel that a wrong has been done”.
The problem we have with anger is not the intrinsic capacity for it, but the appropriateness of when and how we express it.
Because of both His character and His omniscience, God’s anger is always appropriate. He always has all of the facts, He loves everyone, and He is completely righteous and incorruptible even by His own desires. When He gets angry, it is in fact because a wrong has been done, not merely because He feels that to be the case.
Moreover, He is completely righteous in His expression of anger, neither punishing more severely than the situation calls for, and straying into injustice on that side, nor being more lenient than is warranted and straying into injustice on the other side.
Human anger is a bit more fallen in nature. As fallen descendents of Adam and Eve, we no longer instinctively align ourselves with God’s view of things. We get angry about the wrong things, fail to get angry about the right things and express our anger in fallen, destructive ways. That we get angry is not the problem. If you can be grievously wronged – like being raped or beaten – without getting angry about it, it’s a sign that you’re not dealing with the situation. Anger in this sort of situation is healthy and good, because it shows that your moral compass is working. A wrong has indeed been done, and anger is the correct response to that. It is, to coin a phrase, What Jesus Would Do. As Christians, we are called not to remain in anger but to rise above it and forgive, but if a wrong has been done to you or someone you love, getting angry about it can be a good thing.
This, after all, is why God gets angry about sin: it hurts people He loves. He is so incensed about it that He was prepared to die in order to make an end of it once and for all. He can feel wrath – destructive anger – in perfect love. He’s the only One who can, because He alone has all the facts and is not a slave to His anger but Master of it.
This is why the Bible instructs us to get rid of wrath. In our fallenness, wrath is a state we cannot safely enter, because we don’t automatically track with God’s view of the situation and we don’t express our anger with perfect justice and perfect love.
Mostly, though, what the Bible tells us to be rid of is destructive, fallen anger of the kind that enables sin. Fits of rage – flying off the handle over minor infractions, especially the consuming anger that just wants to destroy. Bitterness, which is anger turned inward rather than given vent in any healthy way. Anger directed at the wrong object.
But anger itself is not the problem. We’re in a fallen world, which means that injustices happen. As Christians, we ought to be angry about that, angry not at God because we apparently can do a better job than He and would never have allowed this to happen, but angry at the injustice itself. We should be galvanised by God’s anger at injustice, enough to do something to put a stop to it. Not one of the great reformers of the past – Shaftesbury, Wilberforce, Martin Luther King Jr, or any of the others – ever did anything to fix the abuses of this broken world without getting angry about them, I guarantee it.