What God Says About Anger

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July 21, 2022

“The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies…Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.” — Nahum 1:2; 6

Woah. God sounds super angry — but isn’t anger a sin?

You might be surprised that accounts of God becoming angry show up throughout the Old Testament. As we trace the history of the Israelite nation, we see God get angry with His people as they reject Him and clamor after other gods. We witness His punishments unfolding as the Israelites wander through the wilderness, suffer oppression under their enemies, and are even struck with fire, snakes, and other supernatural acts of God.

Then, in the New Testament, we see this same kind of anger in Jesus, most often aimed at the hypocritical religious leaders, and perhaps most famously toward the money-changers in the temple:

“In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” — John 2:14–16

Here, again, we can’t help but question, “But isn’t anger a sin?!”

The answer, of course, is yes…and also no.

It turns out, there are two different types of anger:

God demonstrates only righteous anger because He is righteous by nature. God is all-good, entirely perfect, and completely holy. His anger is never sinful. As the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church of Rome, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18). God’s anger is just. God’s anger is righteous.

As those created in the image of God, you and I are also capable of righteous anger, and are instructed in Ephesians 4:26 to, “be angry and do not sin.” Like God, we experience righteous anger in the face of injustices, such as human trafficking, racial prejudice, child abuse, and domestic violence. These atrocities incite something in us, as they should.

The problem we run into is that, unlike God, we’re capable of unrighteous anger as well — a reality illustrated in Scripture. It was not long after humanity’s fall into sinfulness (Genesis 3) that, in anger, Cain killed Abel. Then, before we know it, Joseph’s brothers are selling him into slavery, Saul is hurling a spear at David, and the list goes on and on.

God’s Word tells us plainly that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20) but “tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8). While righteous anger results in justice, unrighteous anger begets sin.

So, how do we know if our anger is unrighteous? Let’s take a look.

1️⃣ Conflict

One way to diagnose whether your anger has become unrighteous is to evaluate how it’s affecting your relationships. We learn in the Proverbs that unrighteous anger is the father of conflict:

“A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” — Proverbs 29:22

In the same way that “pressing the nose produces blood” in a physical fight, “pressing anger produces strife” in a verbal one (Prov. 30:33).When we lash out in unrighteous anger toward others, our attitude, words, and actions cause divisions that often look like hurt feelings, unresolved conflict, and estranged relationships.

2️⃣ Foolishness

In God’s Word, wherever unrighteous anger is present, foolishness is never far behind. The Proverbs warn us that “a man of quick temper acts foolishly” (14:17) and “exalts folly” (14:29). Similarly, the author of Ecclesiastes counsels, “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (7:9).

As many of us know all too well, unchecked anger drives us to say and do things we regret as soon as the fury fades.

3️⃣ Revenge

While righteous anger is motivated by a sense of justice, unrighteous anger takes that justice into our own hands by exacting revenge. It tells us we deserve to be repaid for the wrong we’ve suffered, and it’s high time to do something about it. But Scripture says differently:

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” — Romans 12:19

God is the only perfect Judge. His wrath is always just. And when we find ourselves distrusting His sovereign justice, our anger has gotten the best of us.

Yet we must also remember that God’s justice doesn’t end with those who’ve wronged us. We ourselves are subject to His righteous rule and, as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, are liable to judgement for unrighteous anger:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. — Matthew 5:21–22

This solemn warning should cause us not only to think twice before lashing out in unrighteous anger, but to praise God that He hasn’t left us helpless before His wrath.

The God we serve is not only just but “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). Though, in our sinfulness, each one of us deserved His righteous wrath, He sent His own Son, Jesus, to take the punishment for our unrighteousness. As we read in 2 Corinthians, “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (5:21).

When we confess and believe that Jesus is Lord, we receive pardon from our sin and the gift of eternal life in God’s presence (Romans 10:9). And just as God has been merciful toward us, He calls us to demonstrate that mercy to others:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. — Colossians 3:12–13

But how? How do we, as sinful beings prone to unrighteous anger, reflect a perfect God to those around us? The Bible has much to say about this, but I’ll leave you with just three ways you can combat anger and display Christ to the people in your life:

1️⃣ Forgiveness

In the book of Ephesians, we discover an antidote to anger: forgiveness.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. — Ephesians 4:31–32

One of the most impactful ways we can reflect God’s grace is, naturally, to extend it to others. To “overlook an offense” (Prov. 19:11) requires humility, and when we choose forgiveness over bitterness, we embody what it looks like to “be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).

2️⃣ Self-Control

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

While lashing out to put someone else down may make us feel powerful in the moment, God’s Word reveals that it’s patience and self-control that require the greater strength. While “a fool gives full vent to his spirit,” “a wise man quietly holds it back” (Prov. 29:11). It takes great determination and much practice to “rule” and “hold back” your spirit, but the fruit you’ll reap in your relationship with God and others will make the effort well worth it.

3️⃣ Silence

In the book of James, we learn that one of the most important ways we practice self-control is by being “slow to speak” (1:19). This concept is woven throughout the wisdom literature in the Old Testament:

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. — Psalm 4:4

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. — Proverbs 17:27

Have you ever heard that silence speaks volumes? Taming our tongues says much more about the wisdom and grace of God than our words ever could.

And the best part? We don’t have to do any of this on our own. Next time you’re tempted to lash out in unrighteous anger, remember God has given you His Spirit as a Helper (John 15:26) who empowers you to choose forgiveness, self-control, and silence in the face of frustration.