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We live in an age of outrage. We understand some things deserve our anger. A senseless murder, a kidnapping, and the torture of another human being are just a few things that demand pure, righteous indignation. But today it seems that any offense, no matter how small, gets an explosive reaction.

The news has no shortage of examples. Several years ago, a Georgia restaurateur and her teenage daughter were beaten mercilessly after allegedly serving cold chicken to a couple of customers. A woman in Waco, TX, blocked a McDonald’s drive-thru lane and called 911 when she didn’t get her McNuggets quickly enough. Any Google search of “Customer Horror Stories” is a nearly bottomless pit of human idiocy, filled with cautionary tales of what happens when people let their temper get the best of them.

At one time, therapists believed that people should verbally express their displeasure, regardless of how others might receive it. Later research confirmed that this was terrible advice, as venting our anger has a habit of escalating situations, making us more comfortable expressing our outrage, increasing our stress level, and provoking other people. Psychologists now understand that expressing anger doesn’t get alleviate our feelings; it can deepen and reinforce them.

As the world’s best repository of knowledge and wisdom, the Bible is our guidebook for life. It says a great deal about expressing anger. We know that it’s a human emotion—an important one—and that even God demonstrates his wrath on occasion. So, how do we express ours in a righteous way that doesn’t cross over into sin?

First, we’ll take a look at the differences between righteous and sinful anger:

Righteous Anger Sinful Anger
Reflective Reactive
Controlled, contained
(Ecclesiastes 7:9; James 1:19-20)
Uncontrolled, violent, explosive
(Proverbs 29:11)
Points to an objective (or biblical) basis for anger Emotionally-based
(James 4:1)
Able to let small things go
(Proverbs 19:11)
Every offense is worthy of swift reprisal
(Proverbs 12:16)
Able to use reason and logic
(Proverbs 14:29; 17:27; cf. Leviticus 19:17-18)
Foolish and unreasonable
(Proverbs 29:9; cf. Proverbs 20:3)
Seeks biblical justification
(“I am right to be angry because Scripture says it is an appropriate response to X”
Makes excuses
(“I’ve always been hot-headed,” “I just can’t control myself,” “You know how I am when you make me angry”)
Motivated to see justice done and good prevail; allows God to oversee matters of vengeance
(Romans 12:19)
Motivated by a desire for personal satisfaction; steadfastly refuses to forgive and seeks revenge for wrongdoing

I shudder to think of what would happen if God displayed his anger the way his creations do. If he were as childish, petty, and unforgiving as we often are, we’d have an earth-rending apocalypse every five minutes.

Here are a few things that should help us curb unhealthy anger in our lives:

  • Our anger should be like God’s, righteous and slow to build (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 7:11; 103:8). Do we allow ourselves to be provoked (I worded it that way deliberately) for the right reasons? And have we stopped to consider that we might be upset because we misunderstood someone else?
  • We must understand that inappropriate anger is unacceptable in the Christian life. The apostle Paul often groups it with heinous sins (Ephesians 4:31; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:8).
  • Allow patience to slow our anger (James 1:19-20). It may be that we need to reflect on it for a while – we might think that we’re mad at someone else when we’re really sad, hurt, or upset with ourselves. We also have to be careful in trusting our judgment when we’re angry.
  • Allow patience to control our responses so that we don’t provoke others (Proverbs 15:1, 18). Responding immediately to an offense may cause us to say things we can’t take back.
  • We can’t lie awake at night thinking about events that made us angry. We shouldn’t let it rob us of sleep (Ephesians 4:26-27). This only compounds the problem and hardens our already-negative feelings into something else, like bitterness or hatred.
  • Christians should not befriend people given to angry outbursts (Proverbs 22:24-25; cf. Proverbs 16:29). As Paul told the Corinthians, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Although this may have been a bit of conventional wisdom the apostle passed along, it is no less true.

Anger is often a doorway to trouble (Psalm 37:8; Proverbs 14:17). It will also master us if we aren’t careful. Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian army nurse, once said, “He who angers you controls you.”

Aristotle once said, “anyone can get angry—that is easy … but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy.”[1] I think he was right – and he expressed things that we have already surmised from Scripture. In a world that lashes out at everyone, Christians must be known as a people of discipline, measured in our responses, slow to become angry, and quick to help.

See also: Defeating Sinful Anger on Youtube

[1] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics 2.9. Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, translated by David Ross (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 36.