The Deadly Sin of Anger
James warns us to be “slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God (Jas. 1:19-20). Imagine the curtain rising and before your eyes appears a hideous creature. He opens his twisted mouth saying, “I am wrath: I had neither father nor mother, I leapt out of a lion’s mouth when I was scarce an hour old, and I have been running ever since, up and down the world, with a case a rapiers, pounding myself when I could get none to fight withal. I was born in hell, and look to it, for some of you shall be my father” (Christopher Marlowe, in Faust).
Peter Breugal (1558) depicted wrath with a knife held in his teeth, a vial of poison in one hand, the other arm in a sling (from injuries done to him). He is sitting astride a barrel of quarreling, fighting men, and all around are flames of destruction.
What constitutes sinful anger? We all experience anger but few have considered the essence of it. The ancient Greeks viewed anger as primarily an irrational passion. The Bible calls it “wrath.” Wrathful anger is a perversion of an emotion with which God endowed us. Anger is an emotion innocent in itself, even necessary and good in some occasions. God gave us anger for self-protection when we or others are endangered. We pervert our anger by lashing out at those who challenge or threaten our pride-filled ego, or when we attack those innocent of wrong-doing.
Anger is a cardinal sin because it is the fountainhead of many other vile sins. In anger we curse, we hate, we slander, we threaten. Some even assault or kill people. That is why Jesus says that “every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matt. 5:22). Anger is a sister to hostility, intolerance, revenge and wrath.
There is an anger that is acceptable to God. Thus we are told to “be ye angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). Jesus was provoked by those who accused him for healing a man on the sabbath (Mark 3:4-5). He was angered at the money changers and merchants who defiled God’s temple (John 2:13-17). Righteous anger is unselfish. It seeks to help, never to harm anyone. It issues from love. It is regulated by God’s teaching. It is brief in duration. “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4: 26). It is always under the control of the higher, rational faculties.
Wise men have described such controlled anger. “Temperate anger well becomes the wise, keep cool and you command everybody” (St. Just). “He who can suppress a moment’s anger may prevent a day of sorrow. To rule one’s anger is well, to prevent it is still better” (Tyron Edwards). “He that is slow to anger is of great understand; but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly” (Solomon, Prov. 14:29).
There is a kind of anger that God expects us to avoid. This certainly includes any anger which is unjustified. We must not be overly sensitive to slights or looking for an excuse to explode in anger. Don’t carry a chip on your shoulder. We must avoid anger that is retaliatory and combative. Jesus rebuked James and John who were ready to call down fire from heaven on Samaritans who refused them hospitality (Luke 9:55). Anger, born out of intolerance for others, is wrong. Jonah hated the Ninevites and was angry when God spared them from destruction. He was rebuked by God (Jonah 4:1, 9-11).
We must never allow anger to fester and burn in our hearts (Eph. 4:26). Such nursed anger can lead to far greater sins. We must never direct our anger at a person because of what or who he is rather than because of some evil he has done. Anger is sinful when it vents itself in unlawful ways such as cursing, swearing or humiliating words towards others. Surely we must never allow anger to drive us to violence against the objects of our rage. Nor should we allow it to make us seek other, non-violent ways to get even with people. It is especially evil to use anger as a mask to cover our mistakes and wrong doings. Haliburton wrote, “When a man is wrong and won’t admit it, he always gets angry.”
Some common examples of evil anger that we must avoid. Do not allow yourself to be angry at those in competition with you. This often is seen in competitive sports. We should never be angry with those who excel us or who take our position by outperforming us. Never become angry with a person simply because he does not agree with you or support your aspirations. Do not be angry at those who get what you want: a new car, or home, etc. We should not be angry at those who fail to do what we expect of them, when we had no right to expect it. Ben did not vote for Jim and Jim was furious with him. There is no excuse for anger when a person whom we have wronged asks for fair compensation.
Words of wisdom for a happy life. “Anger begins in folly and ends in repentance” (Pythagorus)
. “The fire you kindle for your enemy burns yourself more than him” (Chinese Proverb). “Anger is a stone cast into a wasp’s nest” (Malabar Proverb). “To be angry is to revenge the faults of others on ourselves” (Alex. Pope). “A man makes his inferiors his superiors by heat” (R. W. Emerson). “One burst of frenzied rage can corrupt what the gentle dews of patience and kindness required a decade to build.” Anger distorts our perspective causing us to see life out of proportion, frequently leading us to say and do things we would never do is a sober moment. Solomon rightly observed, “He that is soon angry will deal foolishly” (Prov. 14:17).
Thoughts to Help You keep Your Anger Under Control
We must understand, accept and remember that uncontrolled, misdirected and harbored anger is sinful before God. It is a work of the flesh that can keep us from heaven (Gal. 5:20). “He best keeps from anger who remembers that God is always looking upon him (Plato). Our false pride is the major driving force of sinful anger. We mistakenly see ourselves as the center of the world and expect all others and all things to yield to our wishes.
“Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provoked it” (Seneca). Anger causes significant physiological changes in our body chemistry. Unresolved anger can have serious bodily consequences, whether in chronic outbursts or when suppressed. It can play a factor in high blood pressure, ulcers, heart attacks and strokes. Anger can destroy the love and respect of friends and family. It can harm a person’s ability to make a living. It will harm a family or a church. Remember that people “often make up in wrath what they want in reason” (Alger).
We must let God’s Holy Spirit help us to mortify this sinful passion (Rom. 8:12-13). Thomas Jefferson recommended, “When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred.” Solomon recommends that we “Make no friendship with a man given to anger…lest you learn his ways” (Prov. 22:24-25).
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