Everybody deals with anger—and the Bible has a lot to say about it. It’s packed with stories, teachings and comments about anger. Many people are surprised to learn that God is—by far—the angriest person in the Bible. How can this be? Not only is God the angriest person in the Bible, he’s the most loving person in the Bible. In fact, he’s the angriest person because he’s the most loving person. God’s anger and his love are just different expressions of his goodness and his glory. You can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger. Anger is the only good response to evil. Anger is the loving response when evil is perpetrated.
You may have thought Satan was the angriest person in the Bible. This is also true; however, Satan lacks the counter- balancing virtue of love. Satan’s anger springs from malice and a desire to hurt God and people, whereas God’s anger flows from his love and desire for goodness to prevail.
Now, where does that leave us humans? Human beings were created in the image of God. As such, we have the ability—in fact, we have the calling —to aggressively, angrily oppose evil. But ever since the Adam and Eve plunged the human race into sin, we have been corrupted. As such, we more often image Satan and satanic anger than we do God and righteous anger.
The Biblical definition of anger is this: “Anger is a whole-person response of judgment against perceived evil.” Anger always is a moral matter. Anger always is evaluating things. It weighs something or someone, finds it lacking, wrong, or displeasing— and then moves into action. Anger is our moral judgment against something, someone, or some action which we perceive to be evil. Because we’re made in God’s image, we have the capacity for, and calling to, make moral judgments. But because we’re corrupted by sin, we no longer get angry at the right things, for the right reasons, in the right way.
Where does anger come from? The Bible teaches that anger is something that we do. We actively do it—we are not passive victims— and we do it because we’ve judged something to be wrong. Anger comes from inside us, not from “out there.” The Bible teaches that all sin, including anger, begins in the heart (Mark 7:20-23). Our external circumstances, including what people do against us, do not make us sinfully angry. All they do is expose what’s already in our hearts. Our hearts must be changed if we are to overcome sinful anger (James 4:1-2a).
Angry people tend to feel that they are morally right, that any blocking or changing of their plans is an unbearable indignity and that they should not have to suffer this way. Ask yourself: “What is it that I want so much?” The angry person believes that he has a right to what he desires. His anger is active judgment upon whoever keeps him from getting what he thinks he deserves.
When we desire something too much—even if it is a legitimate, good thing— that craving has become idolatrous. Idolatry is false worship; it says, “This thing will bring me true happiness and meaning. I must have this.” We get angry, we fight and argue, because something we want too much is being denied us. Our desires grow into so-called “needs.” The person who is hoping that other people will meet his supposed “needs” will never find true peace and satisfaction, and thus will be angry when others fail him (James 4:2b-3).
But here’s where Scripture points us toward a solution. And the solution to idolatrous worship is true worship. The person who seeks satisfaction in Christ will have a joy and a peace which can’t be shaken by the sins and failures of others. So when you become angry, ask yourself: “What am I seeking and treasuring more than Christ?” Then confess and repent of any idolatry you find, and turn your worship back to the one who truly deserves it. You will experience the peace, love, and joy that only comes from the rightful worship of our Lord and Savior.
- Slowly and prayerfully review James 1:19-20 ten times per day. Try to memorize it.
- Each time you’re angry this week (whether you express it externally or not), ask yourself: “Who am I better imaging through my anger—God or Satan?”
- If you have a child with an anger problem, join Pastor Lanier’s book study of “The Heart of Anger“.