Excerpted from the book More Jesus, Less Religion by Steve Arterburn
Despite what you may have been taught, even anger can be a legitimate emotional response to a broken world. Christ became angry, expressed it, and did something about it. Consider the story from the gospel of Mark. The text says, ‘a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone. ‘Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or do evil, to save life or to kill?’But they remained silent’ (Mark 3:1-4).
What a terrible silence that was!It reeked with hypocrisy, hatred, jealously, and a stubborn refusal to believe. The text says, ‘He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand. ‘He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored’ (verse 5).
Now Jesus knew very well what sort of world he would enter when he stepped through the gates of heaven to be conceived in the womb of a teenage girl and born in Bethlehem. He was under no illusions about the intransigence, cruelty, hatred, and wooden obstinacy he would encounter during his earthly sojourn. He knew very well that the sins of earth would cost him his life. Even so, when he came nose to nose with such sin and stubbornness in his teaching ministry, it caused him deep frustration even to the point of burning anger.
What then does Scripture have to say about anger in our lives?It can certainly be sinful and out of control, even dangerous. But it doesn’t have to be. The Bible gives us guidelines for expressing that anger in a healthy way. Paul writes, ”In your anger do not sin. ‘Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’ (Ephesians 4:26-27). What great counsel!Yes, you and I will experience surges of anger from time to time. And that anger isn’t necessarily sinful. The key lies in dealing with that anger before it finds a place to lodge and take root in our hearts. We need to deal with relational problems right away and not allow them to fester or seethe within us. That’s where Satan finds a foothold in our lives.
James reminds us to be ‘slow to become angry. ‘Why? Because ‘man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires’(James 1:19-20). In other words, anger should not dominate our lives so that we’re living with a perpetual chip on our shoulder, ready to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. But neither James nor Paul says we should never be angry.
Of course, in some expressions of the Christian faith, anger is a no-no for both men and women. Some believe that everyone must be completely nice and pleasant at all times and that anyone showing anger is not a good Christian; he or she should work on the sinful attitude at the heart of the anger. But such a belief distorts how Christianity and reality are to be joined. Everyone, Christian or not, is going to get angry. The sooner this anger is expressed and resolved, the better. Yet many angry Christians don’t acknowledge they are angry, even as they see the with bitterness and resentment. Their denial of their feelings is both ineffective and unnecessary.
Without our anger we are unable to cleanse the temple of God and maintain its sanctity. Without our anger, we cannot get those people who violate the sanctity of our beings out of our lives. Without our anger, we are relegated to playing the role of enabler and victim.
Anger can be a mechanism of self-defense; those who deny its presence are vulnerable to manipulation and all forms of exploitation. People who don’t have the right to be angry become powerless, unable to stand for what is right.
Some of us are walking paradoxes: The emotions we are willing to show don’t match what we’re actually feeling. We are in a constant state of denial when it comes to our emotions. Women, though angry on the inside, feel safe if they only show their misery and depression. Men, feeling sad and depressed, will not risk being labeled weak by expressing their sadness. So they mask their depression by pushing people around through their anger.
Genuine healthy Christianity, however, is able to embrace who we are as human beings. God knows your struggles, your heartache, your brokenness. He doesn’t reject you because you have needs or feel strong flashfloods of emotion. Instead, he wants to point you to godly resources to meet those needs and ultimately, to himself. He made you. Who understands you better than he?God created us as emotional beings. He created us with needs. The key is that he wants every one of those needs to point us back to him.
Genuine Christian experience encourages believers to rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn’(Romans 12:15). It validates and honors the whole range of human emotion.
In healthy faith there is no need to hide our feelings. We can rejoice that God has given us emotions by which to experience the extremes of life. We should acknowledge them, confess them when they are based on a wrong view of God, and express them as they develop.
Healthy faith allows us to embrace all aspects of our humanity. It acknowledges our capacity to sin and make mistakes. There is no illusion of perfection, no need to be perfect or to hide when we fail. Healthy faith allows us to experience God’s mercy and grace and pass it along. As Paul noted, we who experience suffering and hurt and then feel the comfort of Christ are the ones best qualified to administer first aid to others.
We become wounded healers. . . just like Jesus.
If you found this article helpful or would like more information on this subject, please see More Jesus, Less Religion, New Life Perspectives CD Understanding Anger, or Boiling Point.