The dictionary defines anger as extreme or passionate displeasure.[i]
I would define my anger like this: I want what I want, and someone (or something) is keeping me from obtaining that desire. So my heart grows hot, and my mouth or actions boil over.
Does that sound right?
You might think so. But my definition fails to include another type of anger. This anger is a feeling of extreme displeasure, but one that erupts in a radically different way than cutting words or spiteful actions.
There Is Such a Thing As Righteous Anger
Scripture tells us to be angry and do not sin. (Eph. 4:26) This means that it must be possible to experience sinless anger, or righteous anger.
But what is righteous anger? And what sets it apart from the anger that boils within me; anger that Jesus identified as leading to murder? (Matt. 5:21-22)
Jesus demonstrates the answer.
And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)
And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple… And He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables… ‘Do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ (John 2:15, 16b)
Clearly, Jesus experienced anger.
But when I compare Jesus’ anger with my own sinful outbursts, I see two major differences.
1. Jesus’ anger was instigated by grief.
Unlike me, Jesus’ fleshly emotions aren’t what inflamed His anger. His grief did. Righteous anger is coerced into action by a godly grief over sin.
Righteous anger is coerced into action by a godly grief over sin.
This brings me to the second difference.
2. Jesus’ anger was followed by righteous action.
When was the last time I burned with rage against someone, only to then turn and reach a hand out in care, or to take a righteous stand against sin?
The fact that Jesus healed a man in light of his anger with the Pharisees demonstrates again, how greatly his anger differs from mine. I don’t toss tables in rage to keep my Father’s house sacred. I toss tables, dump coins, and raise my voice to ensure that the world recognizes my will… my way.
But instead of seeing and spouting, Jesus grieves the sin against His holy Father, and then reaches out to make it right.
Is It Possible to Exchange My Sinful Anger for Righteous Anger?
Selfish, sinful anger that I allow to boil within me is dangerous. Actually, Jesus labelled it as deadly.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement… and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matt. 5:22)
I fight this fatal anger every day. Is it possible to escape this trap of self-will, and to exchange it for the godly emotion that Jesus exhibited?
Because of Jesus, it is possible.
Jesus bore the death consequence of my sin (including my anger) at the cross so that I could repent of my self-will and be set free.
This repentance requires humility, and humility is the antidote to sinful anger. Jon Bloom identifies the disease behind the symptom of sinful anger as pride. He writes: Sinful anger is fueled by pride, so we have to cut the fuel supply.[ii]
“Cutting the fuel supply” means laying down the selfish desires that inflame my anger, and humbling myself before God through prayer and confession. A humble heart draws me closer to God, so that I can be angry with Him, not at Him.[iii] And this heart will transform the”passionate displeasure” that erupts when my desires aren’t fulfilled.
The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God… (1 Peter 5:6)
[i] Edited by Della Thompson, The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, (Oxford University Press; Walton Street, Oxford, 1992), 27
[ii] Jon Bloom, “How To Kill Sinful Anger,” DesiringGod; April, 2016, (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-to-kill-sinful-anger)