Anger is scary. As a sin, its effects are immediate, serious and scarring. It involves a loss of control – a blind, all-consuming fury that envelopes them, causing them to lash out at those around them, often for the most trivial of reasons. Those on the ‘receiving end’ fear this volatile, indiscriminate, and unreasonable anger. Maybe you’ve been the victim of such rage, whether on the road or as part of your daily reality in an abusive relationship. Whatever the case, whatever the cause, anger is scary.
But there seems to be a problem, because the Christian God is described as ‘an angry God’. Jesus himself is often moved by anger and his rampage through the temple with a whipped cord is surely a gross and embarrassing over-reaction?! Critics of Christianity are quick to point out this contradiction questioning why they should give their lives to a capricious, mean-spirited and angry God. It’s a great question and one that Christians should not shy away from.
To begin, we must start with God’s anger and not our own. The Bible often links God’s anger with his justice – a key to understanding the problem: Anger is not a bad thing. In fact, when God gets angry it is always for good reasons. He gets angry when he sees the injustices that occur on this earth and when he sees how we have destroyed and warped his perfect creation through selfish rebellion. It is right and proper for God to be angry at paedophiles who systematically abuse innocents, at those who deliberately exploit the vulnerable. God is even right to be angry with me, because there is ‘no-one righteous, not even one’, I have turned away from God and I have sought to live life apart from God’s rule.
So what does this mean for human anger? The Bible gives us this command: ‘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). Notice that anger is not a sin in and of itself. Although we can (and should!), like Jesus, get angry at the injustices of this world, too often humans warp and twist this good emotion into something sinful. The difference between ‘good’ anger and ‘sinful’ anger is the cause of the anger. How often do we get angry because of perceived injustices against us which affront the godlike position we have exalted ourselves to? We are angry because someone has dared to cross us, failing to put us first in their lives.
Of course this is what makes Jesus’ response to us so staggering – he has every right to be self-consumed because he is God. He therefore has every right to unleash his wrath on us, and yet he took the wrath on himself by becoming human and suffering a cruel and humiliating death. What an extraordinary response. It is true that for some anger management is an issue for professional help, but for most of us perhaps we should ponder on Jesus mercy and patience with us, the next time someone steals our parking spot and jumps in front of us in a queue. Not only will it control our anger, but it will give us a greater understanding of the phenomenal sacrifice that our Lord and Saviour graciously gave us on the cross.