We all occasionally get angry, but how does God feel about anger? And is merely being angry a sin, or is it how we handle anger that matters?
“’Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26)
If you are human, it is inevitable that you will, at some point, be angry about something. God understands this, and has given us certain guidelines on how to handle anger.
The first thing we need to recognize is that there are two different types of anger: righteous anger, and its opposite, unrighteous anger. Righteous anger is anger that is justified—it is anger we are right in feeling, such as when an innocent person is wronged, justice is not served, or God is not honored. The Bible recounts Jesus exhibiting this kind of anger in John 2:14-17:
“And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, ‘Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!’ Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’”
Because the Bible also tells us that Jesus “…was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin,” (Hebrews 4:14b) we know that righteous anger in itself is not wrong. To the contrary, it motivates us to do good and fix a bad situation.
Unrighteous anger, on the other hand, is anger brought on not by wrong-doing in others, but by our own sin. I Samuel 18:6-11 gives us an example:
“As they returned home, after David had killed the Philistine, the women poured out of all the villages of Israel singing and dancing, welcoming King Saul with tambourines, festive songs, and lutes. In playful frolic the women sang,
Saul kills by the thousand,
David by the ten thousand!
This made Saul angry—very angry. He took it as a personal insult. He said, ‘They credit David with ‘ten thousands’ and me with only ‘thousands.’ Before you know it they’ll be giving him the kingdom!’ From that moment on, Saul kept his eye on David….Saul…became quite beside himself, raving. David played his harp, as he usually did at such times. Saul had a spear in his hand. Suddenly Saul threw the spear, thinking, “I’ll nail David to the wall.” David ducked, and the spear missed. This happened twice.” (I Samuel 18:6-11)
Saul’s murderous attempts were brought about by his own jealousy, and are an example of the need to submit our anger to God.
But whether our anger is righteously motivated by sin in others, or simply an out-growth of our own sin, we need to be careful to avoid sinning while we are angry. Exodus 2:11-12 is an example of righteous anger handled wrongly:
“One day he [Moses] visited his people and saw that they were forced to work very hard. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew man, one of Moses’ own people. Moses looked all around and saw that no one was watching, so he killed the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.”
The fact that someone else is sinning does not justify us sinning as a response. This is not to say that we are not to help those abusing others—God tells us to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9)—we are just to walk circumspectly ourselves to do genuine good, not more wrong.
Today’s verse also commands us not to harbor grudges beyond the setting of the sun—in other words, to forgive. Jesus said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34b) in the context of not worrying, yet it equally applies to carrying unresolved anger forward from one day to the next. The new morning will bring sufficient issues of its own; we are commanded by God to forgive those who have sinned against us and be done with the sins of today.
Yet this can be difficult. Some sins are offensive, but others may seem genuinely unforgiveable–yet this is what God expects of us. Jesus forgave the men nailing Him to the cross. No atrocity committed against us can be as grave as the Son of God’s unjust execution by His created beings–yet still, He forgave. As even further incentive, He teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven…forgive us for our sins, just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us” (Matthew 6:9-12) to remind us that we too, are guilty.
Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive Divine,” yet it is His Divine nature that God expects His people to mirror. And when it seems humanly impossible to forgive, that is when we must come before the cross and be honest. A simple prayer to the effect of, “Lord, I don’t feel that I can in my own strength, but I know that ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me;’ help me forgive, because this is what You want” is enough. He will help us do what we cannot on our own.
Help us not sin when we get angry. Thank You that You forgive us when we sin; help us likewise forgive those who sin against us, and not carry grudges to bed. Amen.