Biblical Anger Management
Anger is an emotion that is as old as the history of fallen man. Although it is not recorded in the Scripture, it is conceivable that the first ever exchange of angry words in a quarrel were between Adam and Eve—especially after the way Adam blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit (Gen 1:12). Since then, anger had relentlessly infected practically every human being have cause much pain and divisions. Cain slew Abel in a fit of jealousy and anger (Gen 4). Anger and strife was responsible for Abraham’s parting with Lot (Gen 13). Esau’s anger with Jacob forced him to flee (Gen 27). Levi and Simeon slaughtered the Shechemites because Shechem their prince defiled their sister Dinah (Gen 34). Joseph was thrown into prison because Potiphar was angry, having heard his wife’s report (Gen 39). Even the meekest of man, Moses, was not spared: for he smote the rock in a fit of anger, and was thus refused entry into the promise land (Num 20:10-11).
Several thousand years have gone by since the beginning, but the spread and influence of anger shows no sign of abating. On the contrary it appears to be fuelled by the complexity and pressure of modern society. It spares no effort in breaking many a family today—including Christian families. It has been manifested in childish fights and violence on the road. It has brought nations to war and have caused many a church to split.
If anger is so destructive, should we not spare all efforts to get rid of it. Why do we talk about managing it? The answer is threefold. Firstly, Calvin is surely right when he says: "anger is a disease hard to cure." Indeed, it is doubtful if anyone can be completely cured of it. Secondly, anger is not always sinful since our Lord who knew no sin was angry on several occasions. Anger is a necessarily response of rational beings as long as sin exists. It has its proper use in calling attention to the severity of sin. This is alluded to in Proverbs 25:23 "The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Righteous anger is always objectively reasonable. Such was the anger recorded of our Lord against the unbelieving Jews (e.g. Mk 3:5; Jn 2:14-16); of Jacob against Laban who cheated him (Gen 31:36); of Moses against Pharaoh (Ex 11:8) and against the Jews because of the hardness of their hearts (e.g. Ex 32:19) and of Nehemiah against the rich who oppressed the poor (Neh 5:6) and against the Jews who had married pagan wives (Neh 13:25). To put it in another way: righteous anger always has to do with a zeal for God’s Name and God’s Law. Sinful anger, on the other hand is unreasonable and selfish. As such, anger against nature or providence is always sinful. Thirdly, righteous anger can become sinful if it is excessive or protracted. Paul was referring to justifiable or righteous anger in Ephesians 4:26-27 "Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil." Solomon puts very graphically and yet so clearly: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Prov 25:28).
Anger must, therefore, be properly managed lest it become occasion for sin. It is probably with this dictum in mind that book of Proverbs which contains many instruction on dealing with anger does not make a distinction about righteous and sinful anger. Both must be managed in roughly the same way.
How should we manage anger?
Prevention is Better than Cure
Foremost, it must be noted that prevention is better than cure! This is so fundamental and yet so frequently neglected. But how can we prevent anger? Proverbs suggests a most effective way: avoid a hot tempered person! "It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman" (Prov 21:19). "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go" (Prov 22:24; see also Prov 22:10).
Of course, this is not always possible, and we are so often caught in angry situations without having the least suspicion that we were heading towards it. And so often anger arise out of circumstances which does not involve another person. So how should you handle yourself in a potentially explosive situation, whether you are angry or someone else is angry with you? Let me suggest 4 principles:
Do not Bottle-Up
First of all, a glaring silence about the manner of handling anger must be noted, and that is handling anger by pretending not to be angry or by simply ignoring the cause of anger. Jay E. Adams, the Reformed nouthetic counselling authority, calls this internalization or bottling-Up, and the Apostle Paul suggests that it is an undesirable way of handling anger when he says "let not the sun go down upon your wrath: " (Eph 4:26b). The reason why this is not this is not a good way of handling anger is that anger does not normally dissipate completely by itself. Rather it often results in bitterness and resentment and if we do not cease from anger, we may begin to sin even if our anger was righteous. Anger is such a difficult emotion to control, and we sometimes act rashly when we are angry. So that if we continue to simmer in anger, Satan could take advantage of our anger to further his cause. So Paul tells us "neither give place to the devil" (Eph 4:27).
Be Not Quick to Anger
Secondly, if anger cannot be avoid, then a delay may help: "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city" (Prov 16:32). Indeed, not all of us find it easy to be slow to anger. Some of us have dispositions that are more explosive and others more mild and slow to react. But let not anyone of us claim that we cannot control our anger. The fact is that can control it if we are determine to. If phone rang when you are angry with your spouse, you will change our tone immediately, won’t you? If you happen to be in the office, you tend not to give full vent of your anger, is it not? This about why this is so. But whatever the case may be, it is clear that you can control your anger and must do so. Besides, Proverbs does have some good advice for those of us who are more quick-tempered. For example, we are taught to defer our anger: "The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" (Prov 19:11); and to restraint our tongue whether we feel we are right or wrong: "Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? there is more hope of a fool than of him" (Prov 29:20). "A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards" (Prov 29:11). "The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things" (Prov 15:28).
When we speak our minds in conflict situations, we usually give full vent of our anger, and so the situation is greatly worsen. Hasty words are often hurting words which are difficult to retract. Therefore it is wise to control yourself and speak your mind only when all parties have calmed down. By then, you may find the matter so trifling that it is not worth being angry about or it might even be possible for you to pass over a transgression, so that you can calmly say to the offending party: "I forgive you."
What can you do to defer your anger? Well, counting to 10 or 100 is helpful for some, but I find it much better to pray. Pray until your initial anger has dissipated. Pray for humility and for the Lord’s forgiveness if you had reacted wrongly. Pray for the person you are angry with or who is angry with you. Meditate on how the Lord has forgiven you though deserve His wrath. Years ago, my brother and I had a fight. I was a very new Christian then, but the Lord enabled me to pause to think and to pray. In the end I humbly went to my brother, who is younger than me, to apologise to him and to suggest that we pray together. More than 10 years have gone by and we have never so much as quarrelled since then.
Control Your Reaction
Thirdly, maintain your composure at all times and make a determined effort to speak in a controlled manner: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Prov 25:28). How should this be done? Listen to Solomon: "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Prov 15:1). Speaking softly is a great help in an angry situation. Angry words beget angry words. Avoid lifting up yourself. Speak softly and humbly (see Prov 30:32-33). Be contrite even if you think that you are right because proud words forces wrath, or stirs anger just as churning of milk produces butter.
Do Not Allow Anger to Persist & Grow.
Finally, remember that anger will only heighten if not checked quickly: "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with [i.e. before it grows out of control]" (Prov 17:14). So, do what you can to prevent anger from developing further. Learn to apologise. Saying ‘sorry’ often ends the quarrel. Learn to say "sorry" even if you think you are primarily right. Remember that in almost every angry situations both parties would be wrong to some degree. Try it! Aim to be the first to do so. Giving a gift is another excellent way: "A gift in secret pacifieth anger" (Prov 21:14).
Anger is a very natural human response to anything that may be displeasing to us. But selfish and unreasonable anger is always sinful and should be repented of. And justifiable anger if not handled properly tends to lead to sin too. Such anger between believers provide grounds for the devil and unbelievers to blaspheme against the Lord since we bear His Name. Anger is indeed a disease hard to cure. It could a long time of growing in godliness before visible signs of improvement can be discernible. But do not take a complacent attitude. Part of working out your salvation involves managing your temper. Sanctification is no doubt the work of God, but you have a responsibility to heed the instructions given in His Word. Yes, I know it is not going to be easy for many of us. It is difficult enough to be obedient to the Word of God under normal circumstances, how much more difficult it is when ire has arisen in our hearts.
Indeed, as I reviewed this article for publication in our weekly, I feel like a hypocrite, because I can think of so many instances over the last week in which I had been angry both unjustifiably and inordinately. I had disciplined my eldest son in anger and spoken to him in a tone and volume unbecoming of a Christian. I had been angry irrationally when my second son cried incessantly. To add to that misery, I became aware that some of what I have said and done have become occasions for angry outbursts among those affected by my actions. What do I do under such unhappy situations? I thank God first of all for the Lord Jesus Christ, for I am made aware of the ugliness of sin and the corruption of nature. And I am reminded to pray constantly: "Lord, lead me not into temptation but deliver me from evil." Besides, I learn also to pray: "Lord, grant that my words and action may not become occasion for sin in the hands of those who know me or hear me. Grant me a sensitive and caring heart in my relationship with others." But most of all, I was prompted to read this article again that I may be reminded to manage my passions when the situations demands it. I trust that this article will also have some use to you. May the Lord help us to bear His name worthily. Amen.