Do you remember the television adaption of “The Incredible Hulk?” It was sort of a remake of the fugitive with the addition of a giant green monster. Dr. Banner, in times of anger would transform into a raging monster. The monster would rampage about, crashing through walls, throwing cars and people about, and generally making a mess. Somehow, this would solve the problems of the people who Dr. Banner met while forcing Dr. Banner to move on. At the end of every episode the viewer was treated to a hauntingly sad piano melody as Dr. Banner shouldered his backpack and struck out down the highway.
There was a classic line that was part of the opening sequence of every episode. In order to explain the presence of this green monster a narrator would explain how it came to be and we would see cut scenes from earlier episodes. One of those cut scenes featured mild mannered Dr. Banner speaking to a persistent newspaper reporter and saying, “Don’t make me angry! You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” What a great line!
Do you find yourself warning people not to make you angry? I know for years I would blame everyone around me for making me angry, never realizing that when I lost control of my temper it was not their fault. In the pages that follow I will discuss anger as a choice. I will shock some of you by declaring that anger itself, is not necessarily sin. I will offer you some of the lessons that I’ve managed to learn through God’s amazing grace.
However, the first thing I want to share with you is based on that clever line from the aforementioned television series. People will not like you when you are angry. Your anger does not lend itself to love and it does not cause people to respect you. If you use your anger and get your way then it is not out of respect that people give in. Instead, they submit to you to appease your anger. Therefore, such submission is not based on love, or even what is right or wrong. Instead, that submission is based on fear. If you look into the eyes of your spouse, your children, your co-workers, your neighbors, and all of the other people you are having conflict with you will not see love or respect, you will see fear.
I want you to recognize that your unmanaged anger will never produce righteousness in your life or in anyone else’s life. You can’t bring yourself or others closer to God and live an angry lifestyle. In other words, though you might win the conflicts that you think produces that anger, you really cultivate an atmosphere of fear and distrust. Those who have to deal with your anger will conceal or delay presentation of negative information to you. They will not trust you to help resolve problems. They will fear the explosion that they have seen over and over and over again.
Like Dr. Banner, I want you to realize that your unmanaged anger will only serve to isolate you from the very people you love and care about. I want you to understand that not only do people not like you when you are angry, but God is not pleased either. In the comics, the Hulk’s angry rampages often left Dr. Banner sitting somewhere, half-clothed, (sometimes in the snow) tired, and isolated. Perhaps most moving was that his anger only served to isolate him further from his true love and his friends. Further, the Hulk prevents Dr. Banner from forming any solid relationships because there is always the fear that Dr. Banner will lose control of his angry alter-ego and wreck havoc. Finally, the Hulk’s rampages have often destroyed the very items that might have been used to “cure” Dr. Banner of his anger-filled transformations. Here the illustration begins to break down a bit. Dr. Banner’s transformation was initially caused by an exposure to gamma radiation so it is thought if he could reduce the gamma level in his body then he would be cured. I would contend that he would be cured of the horrifying transformation, but his anger problem would still exist. Sadly, there is no easy fix for an angry person. It all requires hard work, much prayer, a great deal of repentance, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the life of the believer.
While Dr. Banner’s example is a pretty vivid picture I want to show you a picture that is similar that comes not from the mind of a great comic book writer but from reality. I want to show you a Biblical example of the out-of-control man. If you read Mark 5 you will encounter a nonfictional version of the Hulk when you read of the Demoniac who identified himself as “legion.” First, he was living alone in the tombs. He was isolated from the people he loved and who loved him. Second, he was uncontrollable. He had often been bound in chains and no man could subdue him. Third, he was tormented night and day, so much so that he was cutting himself. This is exactly where Satan wants to put the believer. He wants to isolate us. He uses the fear we cause others in our out-of-control anger to prevent people from getting close to us. Finally, we find ourselves involved in self-destructive behavior in hopes of finding some ease.
There’s an old joke about why the moron hits himself in the head with a hammer. The answer is simple. It feels good when he stops. An angry person sometimes uses his anger as a tool to provide comfort because it feels good when calm returns. However, this destructive behavior doesn’t really feel make us feel good. Instead, if we have any semblance of a conscience it brings us to a place of shame and disgrace. Now we have to spend time repairing the damage we did while we were angry. Like Dr. Banner, cleaning up the laboratory after a rampage, hoping to salvage some of his work, we try to salvage relationships along with the dignity that we tossed out the window when our temper tantrum began.
Several times King Saul tried to murder David. In fact, in I Samuel 19 we read of him seizing a spear and throwing it at David. All David was doing was playing a harp in an attempt to bring the king peace. Perhaps one of the notes David struck reminded Saul of the lyrics of that great hit “Saul Has Slain Thousands—David Has Slain Ten Thousands!” Later, in I Samuel 20 Saul attempted to kill his own son in the same method. The lesson to be learned is that it is very easy to fall into a pattern of demonstrative anger. Though Saul must have been ashamed by his conduct towards David, when Jonathan defended David Saul regressed to the familiar pattern and reached for his spear. The patterns we establish for ourselves in anger will be the patterns we follow when we become frustrated with others.
An angry person creates a vicious cycle. Problems are never completely resolved, but somehow subjugated to the tyranny of temper. We may have started out right about the issues we were upset about but along the way righteousness was overcome with raw selfish emotion that acted in such severe hostility that we spend days, weeks, or even years apologizing for our actions.
This cycle was one that I created, fed, and managed for years. I don’t know where the anger came from. I do know that I spent years ashamed of my words, actions, and attitudes. I would provide the fuel for an emotional explosion that left those around me uncomfortable and tense. Regardless of how kind and loving I was in between these explosions of wrath those around me were always waiting for the bell to ring that would begin the next round. I wasted a lot of time apologizing or justifying my actions.
I gradually learned, but the damage was already done. Not too long ago, I received a simple text message from my wife advising me of some plans she had for after work. I responded with “fine.” That was the whole message. She became concerned that it was an angry and sarcastic “fine!” and that is was anything but fine. She responded to me that she would not follow her plans if I objected and then added, “I don’t want to make you mad!” When I read that message I saw the Hulk I had created in my own life. My wife was genuinely afraid of making me angry. It was simple for me to call her and assure her that I really didn’t mind. What wasn’t simple was dealing with the fact that my wonderful wife still feared that anger and still felt the need, even if only occasionally, to tiptoe around me. The specter of the Hulk I had been for so long came back to haunt me, yet once more. It still haunts me to this day because the results are still around me.
It is not the purpose of this book to bring shame into your life. There’s enough of that out there for the angry person. It is my desire to bring insight and applications that you can use to begin overcoming and feeling victorious. It is my desire to prevent isolation and sorrow. It is my desire to allow God’s Holy Spirit to speak to you and bring about His will in your life. It is my desire to help you break the bonds of unrighteous anger and to gain an upper hand on this sinful character trait that Satan is using in your life.
So I write this for the purposes of helping other not-so incredible Hulks out there deal with an issue that doesn’t get a lot of discussion in church. Oh, we talk about anger, but we don’t often deal with it in a realistic and helpful manner. As I put this material together I have been forced to reevaluate my own conduct and attitudes and to recognize that I’m still more like the Hulk than I am like Jesus. My goal is always to be more like Jesus, isn’t it yours? If so, then read on.
Finally, you already know that your anger is a problem. Spending all of our time discussing the evil, destructive nature of uncontrolled anger is probably not going to be very productive. Therefore, you will find that the chapters of this book will alternate between a general discussion of anger and practical application. The goal of this book is not to make you feel shame for past actions but to provide practical solutions for future circumstances.
“Be Angry… Sin Not”
It is important to avoid the erroneous conclusion that all anger is sin. Some anger is sin and some is not. God, in all of His holiness and righteousness is moved to anger at times. Those outside of Christ are referred to as objects of God’s wrath in Ephesians. Jesus, during his earthly ministry was moved to anger and challenged the money changers in a very confrontational and angry manner. There will be issues in life where even the most spiritual person is moved to anger. All anger is not sin. It isn’t the anger itself that is sin, it is usually how that anger is handled that determines sin or righteousness.
The Gospel of Mark records a specific instance in which Jesus Himself was angry.
“And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.” Mark 3: 1-6
Jesus was angry! Yet Jesus never sinned. A careful look at this passage will demonstrate that although Christ was angry he did not speak angry words. His anger did not lead him to bluster or threaten. He was angry but he did not call names. His response to their sinful and callous attitudes was simply to keep on doing the right thing. In this case the right thing was to heal the man with the withered hand.
Jesus was angry at the Pharisees about their attitude. However, he saw that demonstrating anger wasn’t going to help resolve the problem. Instead, he chose to do an act of kindness. He did what he could to resolve the situation that was before him. He didn’t have to preach an angry message to them. He simply made a careful statement and responded in a right way. When he left there, he didn’t have to confess his sin and people didn’t look around and say, “Hey! That guy was a real jerk!”
A person can be angry about an issue without falling into sin. The problem is that most people are not angry because of someone else’s spiritual callousness. All day long things happen that make us angry. Sometimes those things are intentional acts against us and sometimes they are just unfortunate circumstances.
We have to realize that there are issues and circumstances in which the only appropriate response is to be angry. Suppose a woman puts dinner on the table, lights candles, and awaits her husband’s arrival at home. Normally, he arrives home around 6 P.M. so she has dinner ready. At 7 P.M. she has not heard from him and he doesn’t answer his cell phone or number at the office. By 10 P.M. she is pacing the floor and perhaps making phone calls to hospitals. Around 2 A.M. he staggers through the door, drunk as a skunk. To make matters even worse, he has lipstick on his collar and smells of another woman’s perfume. It is only appropriate for the woman to be angry. He has presented circumstances that call for anger. It isn’t sin for her to be angry. He has acted in an insensitive, cruel, and disloyal manner. Her sin would stem from what she did in her anger. If she banged him over the head with a frying pan then she would be sinning. Packing her bags and going home to her mother’s would not be a sin. It would be an appropriate response to his callous, insensitive, and disloyal acts.
Beyond the silly illustration, there are a number of things that do and should arouse anger in the life of a righteous person. It should arouse a righteous anger and displeasure to read or hear of a child being molested or abused. It should not call for vigilante action and a lynch mob mentality.
Shouldn’t Americans have been roused to anger over political scandals? Shouldn’t there have been a national rage against the cover up of a crime during the Watergate scandal? Shouldn’t the American people have been outraged over Bill Clinton’s lying under oath and carrying on an adulterous affair in the oval office? Shouldn’t moral wrongs make righteous people angry? It is appropriate to be angry about such moral wrongs. How that anger is handled will determine whether the person is going to fall into sin over it or not.
The misbehavior of children should provoke a parent to anger. It is annoying to be lied to and any parent of any teenager will at times be slapped in the face with blatant dishonesty. An old joke says that you can tell a teenager is lying if his lips are moving. Anger in the face of such dishonesty is not wrong. How that anger is demonstrated and handled will be the determining factor of whether or not an individual is going to sin.
The point is that the Apostle Paul was right to teach that one could be angry without sinning. Christ’s example in the synagogue from Mark 3 teaches the same underlying principle. A believer can be angry and still walk in full fellowship with God.
In Ephesians 4 we have a discussion about living as God’s children. We are told to put off the old man and to put on the new man. Paul tells us that we are to be like Christ and describes actions and attitudes for believers. Then he says:
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 7Neither give place to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27
Here Paul gives two clues about when anger is sin. First, it is sin when we let it go on and on. In its most basic and strictest interpretation we are not to let our anger last as much as twenty-four hours.
Long-lasting anger turns into bitterness and demonstrates an unwillingness to forgive. Since we read in Scripture that God forgives us in the same manner that we forgive others we must be cautious against anger that causes us to hold a grudge.
Some might begin to think that we’re just supposed to be some kind of pushover that ignores wrongs. They would be sadly mistaken. Anger Management is about handling anger properly, not stifling it or sweeping wrongs done to us under a figurative rug.
One of the reasons that we allow anger to simmer and fester into bitterness is because we don’t confront people who have wronged us. Jesus taught us to go and deal with the issues in a right way. Holding a grudge isn’t a right way. A long-lasting, unresolved anger is sin.
The second clue about our anger is that is it sin when we give place to the devil. When you rant and rave in a loud voice, using strong language, demeaning words, and physical demonstrations of your anger then you are sinning because you are giving the devil a place. The devil wants you out of control. The devil wants you to destroy your Christian witness. The devil wants you to create disunity in your home, your church, and your workplace. If you anger is a destructive force then it is sin. The devil is a destroyer and we sin when we use his tactics, no matter how right we are about the issue.
Anger is also sin when we refuse to listen to God about our anger. There are several places in Scripture where God confronts men in their anger. The first is found in Genesis 4. God showed respect for Abel’s sacrifice and this angered Cain. So God spoke to him and asked him why he was angry. God spoke and warned him about his anger. We know how the story ends with the first murder in all of history.
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4: 3-7
God didn’t really reprimand Cain over his anger. Instead, He pointed out how foolish Cain’s sin was. All Cain had to do was offer an appropriate sacrifice. All he had to do was the right thing. Yet because of his sinful attitude and anger he shut out the voice of God, ignored what God was telling him and continued down the path that led to the death of his brother. We sin when we ignore God.
When all-knowing, omniscient God asks a question it is not so that he can discover information. God asks questions that lead us to spiritual truth. His questions have the purpose of bringing us to a place of confessing sin. His questions have the purpose of bringing us to the place of making statements that demonstrate faith and belief in God. For example, when God asked Elijah (I Kings 19) “What are you doing here?” we automatically know it is because Elijah wasn’t in the place he should have been. When God asked Moses in response to his excuses (Exodus 4:11) who made man’s mouth it gave Moses an opportunity to express faith. Moses missed the opportunity.
Finally, God confronts the prodigal prophet, Jonah (Jonah 4). Jonah is angry because God showed mercy to his enemies. He has been through a great ordeal already and now, in his anger, he boldly challenges Almighty God. Even worse, he seems to have thought that his anger would manipulate God. He gave God an “I told you so” speech regarding God’s mercy and the people of Nineveh and then sat down outside the city and waited to see what would happen. (Jonah 4:5) Later, God gives the growth of a vine to provide shelter and to offer a visual lesson to Jonah. Then when he causes the vine to whither and Jonah is fuming over that, God asks him a second time if he has a right to be angry. What does this prophet foolishly do? He tells God that he indeed has a right to his anger. That’s a classic example of spiritually self-centered and self-destructive behavior. He’s talking to the Creator of the Universe and telling Him that he, a mortal man, is right to be upset with God. He has been through a great ordeal already and now, in his anger, he challenges Almighty God. God’s response was that it was foolish for Jonah to be more concerned with a stupid vine than all of the people in Nineveh. Jonah’s anger blinded him to God’s mercy, God’s plan, and the assignment God had for him.
An important key to dealing with our anger is discerning the difference between intentional affronts and unfortunate circumstances. I have a personal experience that probably will help demonstrate the need to discern between an intentional act and a simple oversight. Sometime back my wife and I went through the drive through of a fast-food franchise. We placed our order and the wait at the window began to test our patience. Finally the paper bags and cups were passed over and we began to drive away. My wife, diligent as ever, looked in the bags and realized that our French Fries were not to be found. I stopped the car and threw open my car door and headed for the front door of the establishment with anything but Christian character on my mind. As I grasped the handle of the door the Holy Spirit began to speak to me and I felt very, very, ashamed. The Holy Spirit showed me that this could not be an intentional act. Did I really think that the people serving me were somehow going to gain financially by cheating me out of an order of French Fries? Did I really believe that the business plan of this establishment was to short an order of Fries from every tenth order in an effort to increase profits? Of course this was a ridiculous assumption. Second, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that it was not done by extreme carelessness. The restaurant was busy and the staff were experiencing a hectic period and trying hard to get the orders out as quickly as possible. I was calm when I reached the counter and calmly told the server that we were missing our French Fries. She immediately apologized and resolved the matter. As she handed me the order she apologized once more. I responded kindly, “That’s okay. I know you would never do it on purpose. Have a nice day.”
How many times do we act in anger because we think someone is trying to harm us? We tear into some folks and sternly reprimand them for the harm that they have done to us without realizing that it was an unintentional act. We act in anger and frustration based on a minor problem that is easily solved. My anger was not going to help the situation.
It is clearly sinful to be angry about something did by accident. It is clearly helpful to managing anger to be able to discern when an action is intentional and when it is not.
When God speaks to you about your anger do you justify yourself? Do you declare that your anger is the other person’s fault? Do you declare that you are right and everybody else (even God) is wrong? Do you refuse to admit that your anger has made the original problem much worse than it really was? Do you justify your actions or confess your sins? Do you heed God’s warning at the door of the fast-food establishment or do you justify your anger over the missing food and make everyone around you uncomfortable.