Anger is a dangerous emotion that can lead to harmful speech and actions. It is also destructive to the heart and soul of a human being. It can be as petty as a reaction to our not getting our way or as seemingly noble as a response to injustice. Either way, anger is never an appropriate emotion in any situation. Justice is better served by love of one’s enemies (See Mohandas K. Gandhi on satyagraha) This stance may seem incredible to you, for anger is a natural human response to frustrating and outrageous behaviors of other people. It seems an appropriate response to evil. Some would say it is a healthy response to certain situations. This therapeutic view became popular in the 1960’s and has clung to “The Culture of Self-expression.” Other ways to resolve anger of the heart need to be sought.
Several classical Greek and Roman writers were critical of anger and placed limits on its expression. In the New Testament anger is frowned upon. Jesus directly addresses the subject in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “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 the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5: 21-22 ESV) Brother refers only to disciples, to those in the Christian community; but, a Christian also should not be angry with those beyond the Church. Another text will indicate this point. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5: 38-39 ESV)
In Ephesians Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4: 26 ESV) The apostle places clear limits on the expression of anger. A little later he writes, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear it.” ( Ephesians 4: 29 ESV) And then he says, “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 forgives you” (Ephesians 4: 31-32 ESV) The limits seem to abide no exceptions. Paul is instructing the Christian Church in proper behavior among brothers and sisters in Christ; but, the restraint of anger also counts as the appropriate behavior among those outside of the Christian community.
In the Book of James we find a critique of the misuses of the tongue. “. . . the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” (James 3: 6 ESV) The tongue ” . . . is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.” (James 3: 8b-9 ESV) Anger and the misuse of the tongue go together.
One may say that God expresses anger, why can’t I? Paul refers to the wrath of God (Romans 1). Jesus overturns the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. The wrath of God is not a human emotion, but a reference to God’s judgment against sin. In the scene in the Temple no particular emotion is ascribed to Jesus. One could say that anger is not mentioned, but Jesus expresses it in His actions. Again, His anger is an expression of the judgment of God against sin that the Son of God is certainly authorized to pronounce by word and action. We are not so authorized.
It is clear that in the New Testament anger is condemned. Hear also words from the Old Testament: “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord; therefore calamity will come upon him suddenly; in a moment he will be broken beyond healing.” (Proverbs 6: 12-15 ESV)
With this wise advice from the Scriptures we conclude by saying that anger and its expression in speech and action are to be avoided and certainly in the case of our witness to and apology of the Christian faith. No provocation justifies anger, though we weak and sinful human beings are tempted to harbor it and express it. Lord Jesus, have mercy!
Michael G. Tavella
September 18, 2019