On the whole, I am a lot angrier a person than I would like to be. Someone cuts me off in traffic? I get angry. Someone posts an insensitive political rant on Facebook? I get angry. Someone writes a mean-hearted comment on my blog? I get angry. Someone mistreats my husband? I get angry.
Some of my anger is justified and some of it is not, but suffice it to say that I waste a lot of time feeling yucky. Anger is not a gratifying emotion. I don’t feel better after I get angry. I only feel worse.
I think a lot of us struggle with anger. One of my fellow Her.meneutics writers often refers to our cultural climate as being “poised for outrage.” So many of us are crouched and ready, waiting to be offended, looking to pounce. It happens on the internet, but it also happens in our neighborhoods, business meetings, even our churches.
For years I have watched and judged this culture of anger, pridefully assuming I was above it all. I try hard to bridle the anger in my heart, striving to be a peacemaker rather than an instigator. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it.
Well, God knew better.
This year, through a circumstance I won’t share much about, God revealed a very dark corner of my heart. I found myself experiencing a great deal of anger toward an individual, anger that was certainly justified. I had been victimized and wronged, over and over and over again. I was angry, and the anger was legitimate.
However a funny thing began to happen as that anger took up residence in my heart. It grew roots. It bore fruits. And before I knew it, my anger had evolved into full-blown hate.
That realization was eye opening for me. In the New Testament, hate, rage, and anger are frequently listed as sins (Col. 3:8). And while the Bible allows for anger against wicked deeds (Rom. 12:9), it does not affirm the hatred of people, not even our enemies (Matt. 5:43-44).
This hate in my heart, it was sin.
Once I realized what was going on in my heart, I discovered my hatred was only the tip of the iceberg. I’d been allowing my hatred to justify a whole host of ugly things. I had become bitter, hard-hearted, lacking in compassion, taking delight in misfortune, and calling it all justified. In my anger I had sinned again and again, yet I had excused it all because I was the victim.
This, my friends, is the great danger lurking behind anger. All too often, anger opens the door just wide enough for sin to slip in undetected. As we swing wildly at the object of our wrath, desperately trying to land a punch, we break so much more in the process. Anger distracts us just enough for the Enemy to gain a foothold, to creep into our hearts where he can steal, kill, and destroy.
And the great irony? The person most broken by my rage was me.
One of the most poignant biblical examples of self-destructive anger is that of Moses in Numbers 20. In this story, the Israelites are in the wilderness and desperate for water. Forgetting God’s faithfulness in the past, they complain to Moses about their thirst: “Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here?” (v. 5)
God graciously hears their cries and answers their prayers. In verse 8 God instructs Moses:
“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
After receiving this command Moses follows every step…that is, until the last. Exasperated by the Israelites’ lack of faithfulness, Moses declares, “‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” (v. 10-11)
Did you notice what just happened there? God commanded Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses, in his anger and frustration with the Israelites, struck the rock. And the consequence of his disobedience? Moses was forbidden from entering the Promised Land.
God’s response seems harsh, doesn’t it? After all, the Israelites were audaciously ungrateful. After everything that both God and Moses had done for them, they dared to doubt. Talk about insulting! If I was in Moses’ shoes, I would have been angry too!
But in his anger, sin crept in. Although Moses obeyed most of God’s command, his anger corrupted his obedience. He had the appearance of following God’s command, but he “obeyed” in a manner that gave him the credit for the miracle instead of God–“must we bring you water out of this rock?” (“we” refers to himself and Aaron).
As anger took hold of his heart, Moses presided over the Israelites as though they must answer to him. He performed the miracle as if it originated with him. He stood before them as if the standard of righteousness could be found in him. In doing so, he stood in the place of God.
As a result of his disobedience and lack of faith, Moses was barred from entering the Promised Land. Moses’ anger, which had been directed at the Israelites, swung back around and hurt only him.
Ephesians 4:26 warns us not to sin in our anger, and James 1:20 tells us, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Between these verses and the cautionary tale of Moses’ anger, the Bible communicates this stern caution: anger is a very serious thing. It is not something to be embraced casually, and it is not harmless, even when kept to yourself.
That is not to say there aren’t appropriate times to be angry. There are, and God affirms this truth. When genuine evil occurs, it is good and right to name the wickedness and feel anger toward it.
But anger is a thing we must not indulge or allow to linger. As I look at the presence of anger in my life, I have welcomed it too easily. I have allowed it to dwell and take root, and when I did, that was sin.
It is so easy to be angry in our broken world. There is much to clench our fists about. But the next time you feel your jaw tighten and your face burn over an offense, remember this: the brokenness of this world is why Jesus came to die. The anger you feel at the injustice in this world? God has not been silent about it. Instead, he sent his Son to die for the world, so that one day our anger, fear, and pain would all be wiped away.
In our culture of outrage, let us not be known by our anger but by our freedom from anger. Because of Christ, we don’t have to be angry all the time. We are free to love, and free to forgive. That is our witness and our power in an angry world. It is hard, but I hope you will fight for it.