Alternatives to Anger
Anger is germane to the human experience. When motivated by righteous concerns, it expresses God’s displeasure with sin. When motivated by selfish interests, anger can destroy our relationship with God and people. As James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires” (James 1:19-20).
One expert notes, “Out-of-control anger alienates friends, co-workers, and family members. It also has a clear relationship with health problems and early mortality. Hostile, aggressive anger not only increases your risk for an early death, but also your risk for social isolation, which itself is a major risk factor for serious illness and death.” [i] Some experts suggest that the average adult gets angry about once a day and annoyed or peeved about three times a day. Other anger management experts suggest that getting angry fifteen times a day is more likely a realistic average. For the believer, we hope the frequency and intensity is much less.
What is Anger?
Clinically, anger is an emotion related to one’s psychological interpretation of having been offended, wronged, or denied and a tendency to react through retaliation.[ii] One of my mentors used to explain that anger is a control mechanism. The Bible describes it as a besetting sin to be avoided. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Ultimately, anger is a choice, and we all need the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit to help us make healthy, godly choices.
Submit to Sovereignty
A primary alternative to anger is a high view of and heartfelt surrender to our Sovereign God. As one friend said to me, “If God is truly sovereign, there is not a whole lot I have to get angry about.” The familiar passage tells us to “be still” (cease striving, let go, relax) “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In Isaiah 46:9-10 we are told, “I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning , and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.’” Trusting God’s sovereign control frees us from trying to control people or situations through harmful anger.
Glory in Goodness
Anger is focused on our disappointment, feelings of injustice, and desire for payback. All of these can be overcome by a deep understanding and affirmation of the goodness of God in all things.
Even after a lifetime of repeated injustice, Joseph was able to say to his brothers who sold him into slavery, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). After losing family, home, and even his health, Job rested in God’s goodness: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). When we know the Lord is our Shepherd, watching over and caring for our lives, we can say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). When we are struggling with negative emotions we can declare with the Psalmist, “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living” (Psalm 27:10). Genuine gratitude can replace anger when we worship God in His goodness.
Even when we keep a proper Godward focus when anger tempts us, we still have to deal with thoughtless and hurtful people who disappoint or injure us by their words and actions. Even in this we must look to a God who is merciful with us and forgives our heinous and repeated sins against Him. He calls us to the commitment to “forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). In the midst of the shame, pain, and injustice of His crucifixion, Jesus was able to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
We’ve heard it said that “bitterness is the poison we drink expecting the other person to die.” It is good to remember that forgiveness does not make the other person right, it simply makes us free. When, by the grace of Christ, we release a person from our judgment through genuine forgiveness, we can be free from the destructive emotions that eat away at us and lead to many other harmful realities.
Triumph through Trust
Perhaps the most difficult choice is that of trust. Even when we worship God in His sovereignty and goodness and genuinely forgive those whose actions have tempted us toward anger – we still must trust God on a daily basis with our painful situations. Anger is our way of taking things back into our own hands, rather than leaving them in the hands of God.
Again, we are inspired by Job’s words: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15). We are helped by the practical and familiar words of trust from David: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). When the way is unclear, our circumstances are uncomfortable, our relationships are unhappy, and our future is uncertain we are tempted to respond in anger. Yet, the deepest trust can flourish as a gift of grace even when clarity eludes us. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” Happiness can overcome anger when we truly learn to trust.
“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). I pray this will be your confident declaration of trust today as a powerful alternative to anger.
Copyright © 2013 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.