Christ And Anger
Mr. Daniel H. Horner resides in Thousand Oaks, California, and has contributed to FOCUS in the past
Anger is very Biblical, there being 455 occurrences of it in the Old Testament, while of this number 375 refer to divine anger. Jesus also experienced it on earth (Mark 3:5) and expressed it in His denunciation of the Pharisees (Matt. 23).
And yet, in the Sermon on the Mount we are warned about harboring anger against a brother. How can we reconcile these?
First, let’s look at the negative aspects of anger. The passage just cited in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:22) states that we are not to be angry at our brother “without a cause.” This shows that anger is permissible in certain circumstances, but not unless there is a just cause.
In Ephesians 4:26 we are told that it is possible to be angry and not sin, apparently involving a just cause again. But we are also told, “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath.” Apparently anger harbored for a long time and smoldering is sinful, and the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 5 that it can be murderous in intent.
Anger, then, is evil when:
1. It is merely a quick temper. Thomas Jefferson said: “When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, count a hundred.”
2. It does not fit the offence.
3. It is against the innocent.
4. It is harbored too long.
Anger also has special attendant problems:
1. We may be mistaken in interpreting the offence.
2. We can completely lose control of ourselves.
3. It can add further complications.
4. It can mar friendships for years.
5. It requires genuine repentance if wrong.
In our own relationship with God, who would not prefer His mercies to His anger (Lam. 3:22)?
To deny angry feelings has, in fact, led to bottled-up emotions with attendant problems. William Burke has summed it up in a stanza from “A Poison Tree”:
I was angry with my friend.
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
Those who bottle-up their anger frequently give way to the inevitable “explosion” where their anger may be way out of proportion to the offence.
But what is a just cause for anger? Let’s look at the life of our Lord. In Mark 3 it is recorded that He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and saw a man with a withered hand. The religious leaders watched to see if He would break the Sabbath rest by healing the man. Jesus, bypassing the letter of the law to get at its spirit, asked, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill?” The religious leaders were silent. And then, Jesus was angry, “being grieved for the hardenss of their hearts.” He was angry at their letter-of-the-law religion that excluded compassion, a religion of outer self-righteousness. Later He would denounce this harsh, legalistic religion in scathing terms (Matt. 23).
Here, then, is an example of a just cause for anger — the perversion of the essence of Christianity by a harsh, rigorous legalism; a failure to enter into the “love of God and neighbor.”
The Lord Jesus never spoke to publicans and sinners in such a diatribe of anger as He did in Matthew 23. He saved His worst anger for corrupt religion.
It is interesting to note that the wrong kind of anger is seen in the religious leaders’ response to Christ (Luke 6:11). The Greek word there suggests an anger that borders on insanity, a complete loss of control.
Another interesting point is that Jesus ended His severe denunciations of Matthew 23 with weeping. He would have preferred to have gathered these people in His arms.
Martin Luther, who followed our Lord in denouncing corrupt religion, found that this kind of anger can actually be beneficial. He wrote: “I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperament is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart.”
Perhaps Chrysostom summed it all up best when he wrote: “Anger is implanted in us as a sort of sting, to make us gnash with our teeth against the devil, to make us vehement against him, not to set us in array against each other.”