The Bible’s Viewpoint
Is It Always Wrong to Get Angry?
“ANGER is a short madness.” Thus the ancient Roman poet Horace [Latin: Horatius] voiced a common view of one of the strongest of all emotions. While not everyone agrees that anger is a form of temporary insanity, many do view it as inherently bad. As early as the sixth century C.E., Catholic monks compiled the famous catalog of “seven deadly sins.” Anger, not surprisingly, made that list.
It is easy to see why they felt this way. The Bible does say: “Let anger alone and leave rage.” (Psalm 37:8) And the apostle Paul exhorted the congregation at Ephesus: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.”—Ephesians 4:31.
You might well wonder, though, ‘Is that all there is to the Bible’s viewpoint on anger? After all, did not Paul also prophesy that these “last days” in which we live would be “critical times hard to deal with”?’ (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Does God really expect us to live in these times when people are ‘fierce, without love of goodness, with no natural affection’—and never become even a little angry?
A Balanced View
The Bible’s treatment of this subject is not so simplistic. Notice, for example, Paul’s words at Ephesians 4:26: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin.” This verse would be quite puzzling if anger were automatically a “deadly sin,” one meriting eternal punishment.
Paul was quoting from Psalm 4:4, which reads: “Be agitated, but do not sin.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, the Hebrew word translated here “be agitated,” ra·ghazʹ, means to “quiver with strong emotion.” But which strong emotion? Was it anger? In the Septuagint translation of Psalm 4:4, ra·ghazʹ was rendered in Greek as “be made wrathful,” and that is clearly what Paul intended here.
Why would the Bible allow a place for anger? Because not all anger is bad. The view that, as one Bible commentator put it, “man’s anger is never in itself just and permissible” is not Scriptural. Bible scholar R. C. H. Lenski rightly remarked on Ephesians 4:26: “The ethics which forbids all anger and demands unruffled calmness in every situation is Stoic and not Christian.” Professor William Barclay similarly noted: “There must be anger in the Christian life, but it must be the right kind of anger.” But what is “the right kind of anger”?
While anger is not one of his dominant qualities, Jehovah is repeatedly described in the Scriptures as feeling and expressing his anger. For two reasons, though, his rage is always righteous. One, he never gets angry without a proper basis. And two, he expresses his anger in a just and righteous way, never losing control.—Exodus 34:6; Psalm 85:3.
Jehovah is enraged by deliberate unrighteousness. For example, he told the Israelites that if they victimized defenseless women and children, he would ‘unfailingly hear the outcry’ of such ones. He warned: “My anger will indeed blaze.” (Exodus 22:22-24; compare Proverbs 21:13.) Like his Father, Jesus had a soft place in his heart for children. When his well-meaning followers once tried to prevent some children from approaching him, “Jesus was indignant” and took the children into his arms. (Mark 10:14-16) Notably, the Greek word for “indignant” originally referred to “physical pain or irritation.” Strong feelings indeed!
Righteous indignation likewise stirred in Jesus’ heart when he saw that merchants and money changers had turned his Father’s house of worship into “a cave of robbers.” He upset their tables and threw them out of there! (Matthew 21:12, 13; John 2:15) When the Pharisees and the scribes showed more concern for their niggling Sabbath rules than for the sick who needed help, Jesus was “deeply hurt as he sensed their inhumanity” and “looked round in anger at the faces surrounding him.”—Mark 3:5, Phillips.
Similarly, faithful Moses of old was filled with righteous indignation at the disloyal Israelites when he hurled down the tablets of the Mosaic Law. (Exodus 32:19) And the righteous scribe Ezra was so angry over the Israelites’ disobedience to God’s law on marriage that he tore his garments and even pulled some of his hair out!—Ezra 9:3.
All of those who “love what is good” strive to “hate what is bad.” (Amos 5:15) Thus, Christians today may feel righteous anger welling up in their hearts when they see deliberate, unrepentant acts of cruelty, hypocrisy, dishonesty, disloyalty, or injustice.
Handling Anger Properly
It is no accident that the Bible often likens anger to a fire. Like fire, it has its place. But it can also be horrendously destructive. All too often, unlike Jehovah and Jesus, humans feel anger without proper basis or express their anger in an unrighteous way.—See Genesis 4:4-8; 49:5-7; Jonah 4:1, 4, 9.
On the other hand, simply bottling up one’s anger and pretending it is not there may not be righteous either. Remember, Paul counseled: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) There are Scriptural ways to express anger, such as ‘having your say in your heart,’ talking out your feelings with a mature confidant, or even calmly confronting a wrongdoer.—Psalm 4:4; Proverbs 15:22; Matthew 5:23, 24; James 5:14.
Therefore, it most decidedly is not always wrong to get angry. Both Jehovah and Jesus have got angry—and will again! (Revelation 19:15) If we are to imitate them, we may even face situations wherein it is wrong not to feel angry! The key will be to follow Bible counsel, making sure that we have a valid basis for our feelings and that we express them in a righteous, Christian manner.
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Cain and Abel