The Bible’s Viewpoint
Why Control Your Anger?
IT WAS an ominous beginning. “Now that I am the head of this house, you are not going to embarrass me by being late,” shouted John at his new bride, Ginger.a For over 45 minutes, he yelled at her while demanding that she remain seated on the couch. Abusive speech became the norm in their marriage. Sadly, John’s angry behavior escalated. He would slam doors, pound on the kitchen table, and drive wildly while banging on the steering wheel, thus endangering the lives of others.
Unfortunately, as you no doubt well know, such scenarios are repeated all too often. Was this man’s anger justified, or was he losing control? Is all anger wrong? When is anger out of control? When has it gone too far?
Controlled anger may be justified. For instance, God’s anger blazed against the ancient, immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Genesis 19:24) Why? Because the inhabitants of those cities engaged in violent and depraved sexual practices, as was well-known throughout the region. For instance, when angelic messengers visited the righteous man Lot, a mob of young men together with old men attempted to gang rape Lot’s guests. Jehovah God was justifiably angered over their gross immorality.—Genesis 18:20; 19:4, 5, 9.
Like his Father, the perfect man Jesus Christ had occasion to be angry. The temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be the center of worship for God’s chosen people. It was to be “a house of prayer,” where individuals could present personal sacrifices and offerings to God and where they could be instructed in his ways and have their sins forgiven. At the temple they could, as it were, commune with Jehovah. Instead, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day turned the temple into “a house of merchandise” and “a cave of robbers.” (Matthew 21:12, 13; John 2:14-17) They personally profited from the sale of animals to be used as sacrifices. In a very real sense, they were fleecing the flock. Thus, the Son of God was perfectly justified when he drove those swindlers out of his Father’s house. Jesus was understandably angry!
When Imperfect Humans Get Angry
Imperfect men can also at times be rightly incensed. Consider what happened to Moses. The nation of Israel had just been miraculously delivered from Egypt. Jehovah had dramatically demonstrated his power over the false gods of Egypt by smiting the Egyptians with ten plagues. He then opened the way for the Israelites to escape, by parting the Red Sea. Subsequently, they were led to the foot of Mount Sinai, where they were organized into a nation. Acting as mediator, Moses went up into the mountain to receive God’s laws. Along with all the other laws, Jehovah gave Moses the Ten Commandments, written by “God’s finger” upon stone tablets that God himself had carved from the mountain. However, when Moses descended, what did he find? The people had turned to worshiping the image of a golden calf! How soon they forgot! Mere weeks had elapsed. Rightly, “Moses’ anger began to blaze.” He shattered the stone tablets and proceeded to destroy the calf image.—Exodus 31:18; 32:16, 19, 20.
On a later occasion, Moses lost his temper when the people complained about the shortage of water. Exasperated, he momentarily lost his renowned meekness, or mildness of temper. This led to a serious mistake. Instead of magnifying Jehovah as Israel’s Provider, Moses spoke harshly to the people and directed attention to his brother Aaron and himself. Thus, God saw fit to discipline Moses. He would not be allowed to enter the land of promise. After this incident at Meribah, no further mention is made of Moses losing his temper. Apparently, he learned his lesson.—Numbers 20:1-12; Deuteronomy 34:4; Psalm 106:32, 33.
Thus, there is a difference between God and man. Jehovah can ‘check his anger’ and is rightly described as being “slow to anger” because love, not anger, is his dominant quality. His anger is always righteous, always justified, always controlled. (Exodus 34:6; Isaiah 48:9; 1 John 4:8) The perfect man Jesus Christ was always able to control the display of his anger; he was described as being “mild-tempered.” (Matthew 11:29) On the other hand, imperfect men, even men of faith like Moses, have had difficulty controlling their anger.
Also, men generally fail to give due regard to consequences. There can be a price to pay for losing control of one’s anger. For instance, what are the obvious consequences if a husband loses his temper with his wife to the point that he punches a hole in the wall with his fist? Property is damaged. His hand may be hurt. But more than that, what effect will his tantrum have on the love and respect his wife has for him? The wall may be repaired in a few days, and his hand may heal in a few weeks; but how long will it take for him to regain the trust and respect of his wife?
Actually, the Bible is filled with examples of men who failed to control their anger and who suffered the consequences. Consider but a few. Cain was banished after he slew his brother Abel. Simeon and Levi were cursed by their father for killing the men of Shechem. Jehovah struck Uzziah with leprosy after Uzziah became enraged with the priests who were trying to correct him. When Jonah “got to be hot with anger,” Jehovah reproved him. All of them had to answer for their anger.—Genesis 4:5, 8-16; 34:25-30; 49:5-7; 2 Chronicles 26:19; Jonah 4:1-11.
Christians Are Accountable
Similarly, Christians today must render an account for their actions both to God and, to some extent, to their fellow believers. This can readily be seen from the Bible’s usage of the Greek terms denoting anger. One of the two words most frequently used is or·geʹ. It is generally translated “wrath” and contains an element of awareness and even deliberation, frequently with a view to taking revenge. Thus, Paul urged Roman Christians: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath [or·geʹ]; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” Rather than harboring ill will toward their brothers, they were encouraged to “[conquer] the evil with the good.”—Romans 12:19, 21.
The other frequently used term is thy·mosʹ. The root word “originally denotes a violent movement of air, water, the ground, animals, or men.” Thus, the word is variously described as a “passionate outburst of hostile feeling,” “bursts of temper,” or “turbulent passions, disturbing the harmony of the mind, and producing domestic and civil broils and disquietudes.” Like a volcano that may erupt without warning and spew forth hot ash, rock, and lava, which may injure, maim, and kill, so is a man or a woman who cannot control his or her temper. The plural form of thy·mosʹ is used at Galatians 5:20, where Paul lists “fits of anger” along with other “works of the flesh” (Ga 5 verse 19), such as fornication, loose conduct, and drunken bouts. Surely, the behavior of John—described at the outset—well illustrates “fits of anger.”
Therefore, how should the Christian congregation view individuals associated with it who engage in repeated acts of violence against the person or property of another? Uncontrolled anger is destructive and easily leads to violence. With good reason then, Jesus stated: “I say to you that everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice.” (Matthew 5:21, 22) Husbands are advised: “Keep on loving your wives and do not be bitterly angry with them.” One who is “prone to wrath” does not qualify as an overseer in the congregation. Hence, individuals who cannot control their anger should not be considered an example to the congregation. (Colossians 3:19; Titus 1:7; 1 Timothy 2:8) In fact, after the attitude, the pattern of behavior, and the severity of damage to the lives of others have been considered, a person who gives in to uncontrolled fits of anger could be expelled from the congregation—a dire consequence indeed.
Did John, spoken of earlier, ever bring his emotions under control? Was he ever able to check his swift, downhill plunge to disaster? Sad to say, shouting escalated into pushing and shoving. Finger pointing led to literal, painful, bruising pokes of the finger. John was careful to avoid bruising areas that were easily visible and tried to hide his conduct. Eventually, though, he resorted to kicking, punching, hair pulling, and worse. Ginger is now separated from John.
This did not have to happen. Many in similar circumstances have been able to tame their anger. How vital it is, therefore, to imitate the perfect example of Jesus Christ. He was never guilty of even one fit of uncontrolled rage. His anger was always righteous; he never lost control. Wisely, Paul advised all of us: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) Modestly recognizing that we have limitations as humans and that we will reap what we sow, we have good reason to put the brakes on anger.
a Names have been changed.
[Picture Credit Line on page 18]
Saul Attempts the Life of David/The Doré Bible Illustrations/Dover Publications, Inc.