Anger. It is something we have all done. Its something we have all experienced, serving as the object of someone else’s diatribe. As Psychology Today noted, anger is, “often pretty clear-cut. It’s rarely subtle.”
Though we have all encountered forceful and emotional expressions of negativity, few of us know what to do with our rage. Some encourage us to openly vent our frustrations. Others bury their feelings deep inside, proclaiming that everything is fine. Sure, they haven’t spoken to their friends in 50 years, but everything is fine. Lastly, others use anger as a source of motivation, referencing past insults and forecasts of doom to find the energy needed to become their schools next valedictorian or to smash the opposing football team. Anger remains both a common and complex emotion.
Thankfully, the Jesus of the New Testament addresses our challenges. He goes beyond the pithy statements found in Matthew 5:3-10 and explains how to be salt and light. In the process, he deals with things such as divorce, lying, and even anger.
According to Jesus, anger is not something to be vented, hidden, or repurposed. We are to abhor it and to repent of our sinful, negative emotions. If we remain angry, frustrated, or bitter, we will awake one day soon to find our souls imprisoned under God’s wrath with no way of escape.
Murder is Bad
When Jesus tackled the topic of anger in Matthew 5:21-26, he found his society’s understanding of rage to be artificially constrained and short sighted. The scribes and the Pharisees had restricted the discussion of anger to a discussion of murder. They said that anyone who murder their wife, coworker, or neighbor “will be liable to judgement (Matt 5:21).” Their vague restatement of Genesis 9:6, Exodus 21:12-14, and other passages on murder correctly affirmed the sanctity of human life and the need to address accusations of murder with spiritual diplomacy and legal nuance. Those who take the life of an unborn baby, a middle-aged mom, or of a bedbound senior-adult should be held accountable to the standards of divine justice. Jesus concurs with this assessment of the Old Testament law.
Anger is Bad
But Jesus did not believe the religious leaders of his day went far enough. They lost sight of the reality that God also hates our self-centered pride which fuels our anger. As Proverbs 29:22 notes, “one given to anger causes much transgression.” When men and women lash out at their children, mom and dad do so because they are selfish. The mud stains on the carpet ensure that mom and dad will have to exchange their quiet evening on the coach for some intense floor scrubbing. Because their divine plans have been interrupted, they lash out at the kids. In other words, they expressed anger because they wanted what they wanted and were willing to punish others to get it and maintain it. Even are close friends, our kids, and our spouses are not protected from the negative emotion that flows from our love of self.
According to Jesus, the eyes of the arrogant are just as deadly as “the hands that murder the innocent (Prov 6:19).” If we were to update the analogy, we could say that Jesus views the mini-van driving mom screaming at her kids and of the faced-tattooed, serial killer sitting on death row as one-in-the-same. Matthew 5:22 bluntly states, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.” To keep us from writing off this sentiment as the miscalculation of a poor biblical interpretation, Jesus circles around the concept of anger and expands his definition. He notes that those who insult their friends and call their friends fools will be punished for their unkind words (Matt 5:22). The concept of the term insult implies the notion that one is empty headed. In other words, to insult one’s brother would be to call him stupid, bone headed, or dumb. To call someone a fool was to label someone as being worthy of hell fire and damnation. When we insult the guy who cuts us of off in traffic, the politician who never seems to get things right, and the kids who all seem to do the opposite of what we asked, we commit the sin of anger. We are not simply Irish or passionate or misunderstood. According to Jesus, we are angry. We are sinning against God.
The Importance of Reconciliation
Because anger leads to eternal judgement, we should quickly exchange anger for reconciliation. Jesus tells two miniature parables in Matthew 5:23-26 towards this end. In the first, he tells his audience that they need to leave everything including an animal on the alter and go and be reconciled. Were we to update Jesus’s words, we would say that if one is leading the choir or preaching a sermon and realizes they have committed anger, they need to walk off the stage, drive to their neighbor’s house, and ask for forgiveness. Pastors, church leaders, and religious people do not get a special pass when it comes to anger. God does not look the other way when they fume with anger because they reached so many people or built such a large church. Jesus tells them to drop everything and repent.
To drive the point home, he tells a second parable of a man on his way to debtors prisons. He says that if the man cannot settle before court, he will wind up in prison and will never get out. The man in prison, lacks the ability to work and to gain the capital need to pay off his debt. In other words, Jesus declares that those who take their anger, bitterness, and vengeance to the grave will miss out on the mercy of God and know only the fires of hell. Before we get to eternity, we should seek peace with those we have offended. We should ask them to forgive us for all the wrongs that we have done. And we should stand at the ready to forgive others freely extending mercy to everyone who asks. Those who voice their negative emotions on Facebook and those who secretly nourish a lifetime of bitterness that pops out in the occasional ugly look or snide comment will miss the hope of heaven and spend eternity under God’s wrath. Instead of cultivating anger, we must invest in reconciliation, seeking peace with all. If we do not and allow our angry to fester it will destroy us. We must hate anger and pursue reconciliation for judgment is coming.
Is All Anger Bad?
However, the concept of God being wrathful or angry reveals that not all anger is sinful. Some things should be viewed with forceful negativity such as rape and murder. God’s righteous and just anger should burn against sin. Moreover, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to be angry and not to sin. A place exists for forceful, godly negative emotions.
When human anger is righteous, it should mimic the character of Jesus and provoke within us a strong desire that pushes towards justice and forgiveness. Godly anger pushes us to help the poor and to demand justice for the abused. But it then leads us to evangelize and pray for those who cheated the poor and committed the abuse. When Christ emptied the temple with a whip in Matthew 21:12, he returned the next day to call those same men and women to repentance. When he was hung on a cross and insulted, he extended his murderers forgiveness (Lk 23:44). Indeed, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8).” His people should do likewise (Jm. 1:19).