3 Questions I Ask Myself When I'm Angry

I recently worked on writing a short piece about "wrath" for InterVarsity's national blog. It's now been published here: Seven Deadly Sins: Wrath.

I thought I might jabber out some additional thoughts here.

As I've studied themes of anger in the Bible three questions seem to keep coming up …

1) Do you have any right to be angry?

This is the question the Lord asked Jonah after the Lord gave Nineveh a stay of execution. And Jonah was convinced that he had a right to be angry. The narrative doesn't tell us why, but we can hazard some guesses.

  • Maybe Jonah was embarrassed that his prophecies didn't come true ("40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown") and afraid of the consequences of being seen as a false prophet
  • Maybe Jonah harbored ethnic hatred toward the Ninevites and didn't want them saved
  • Maybe Jonah knew that salvation for the Ninevites would endanger Israel's future (as Nineveh and the Assyrian empire would eventually enslave Israel and destroy on of her kingdoms forever)
Instead of wrestling with whether or not he had the right to be angry, Jonah instead points to the intensity of his anger: "I'm angry enough to die." The intensity of our anger can keep us from looking into its justification.

When we're angry, asking whether or not our anger is justified can slow us down enough to give our rational selves space to catch up with our emotional selves. Those powerful emotions propel actions. That's what they're for. That makes them powerful but it also makes them dangerous.

2) What will I do with this anger?

When Paul writes about anger in Ephesians 4, he says "In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry."

This isn't a strict law. Anger doesn't become sinful the moment the sun hides behind the horizon. And it can certainly become sinful while the sun is still high in the sky. But what Paul is getting at here is that anger should propel action. Anger can and anger should.

What kind of action? 

Maybe work for justice. Anger in the face of evil gives us a burst of energy to resist evil, to throw down the gates of hell and participate in God's work to set the world aright.

Maybe work for reconciliation. That burning anger that comes when a relationship is off-kilter or a wound has been delivered can leave us unsettled … a burr in our saddle. That anger can drive us forward to bring the wrong to light, communicate the hurt and seek a restoration of the relationship.

Maybe work in you soul. That anger might be a signal that something is wrong in your inner-world. Maybe you've placed your hope in the wrong place. Maybe you've attached your joy to something unworthy. Maybe you're hungry or lonely or tired. Anger is a flashing warning light that is difficult to ignore.

"What will I do with this anger?" forces us to move. We weren't made to live anger-filled lives. But some of us get trapped in cycles of anger. We sit in it and refuse to move. We want the sun to go down and rise again on our wrath. But God has something more for us.

3) Who can help me with this anger?

Wrestling with anger alone stinks. It makes us into the worst versions of ourselves. We blow things out of proportion. We stall out. We feed on our frustration. We internalize our anger and get sick.

I ended up focusing my Wrath Post on this last aspect of anger … a good and angry community (though I didn't have the courage to call it that in my essay). 

Communities are not perfect detectors of the righteousness of anger. Sometimes, your friends will goad you into unnecessary anger or will throw unhealthy fuel on the fire. Sometimes. But often a Christian community can soften the edges that need softening and sharpen the edges that need sharpening. Your trusted community can give you perspective and boundaries.

When I was a kid people would always bring friends with them whenever there was a fight in the neighborhood or at school. They would do this for two reasons. First, to protect them from the enemy if the fight got out of hand. You might lose, but you don't want to lose too badly. But the second reason is a little strange: to protect them from themselves. You don't want to take your win too far. Your buddies would intervene if things got out of hand.

A good and angry community can do that. They can give you the encouragement you need to work for justice, the support you need to work for reconciliation and the space you need to do soul-work.

The world needs more angry Christians. 
No, not Christians with tempers flaring out of control. 
No, not Christians screaming and yelling.
No, not Christians filled with arrogance.

But people who are dissatisfied with injustice in the world.
And people who are through with division in the world.
And people who will do the internal work necessary to become agents of good.
People who are angry in a new way.