In the Bible the Hebrew and Greek words basically meaning “nostrils” (because of the violent breathing [or snorting] of a passionate person), “heat,” “excitement,” “anger,” “rage,” “overflowing [of temper],” “a natural impulse or desire,” are translated into English by the words “anger,” “indignation,” “wrath,” “heated opposition,” “rage” and “fury,” according to their shades of meaning and the context.
Anger may be justified or unjustified. On God’s part, his anger is always justified, being based on principle dictated by his right to exclusive devotion and his constancy in upholding truth, and governed by his love for righteousness and for those practicing righteousness. Divine anger does not stem from a momentary whim, to be later regretted. Jehovah sees all the issues involved in a matter and has complete, entire knowledge of a situation. (Heb. 4:13) He reads the heart, he notes the degree of ignorance, negligence or willful sin, and he acts with impartiality.—Deut. 10:17, 18; 1 Sam. 16:7; Acts 10:34, 35.
Principles controlling divine wrath
God’s anger is always under control and in harmony with his attributes of love, wisdom and Justice. Because of his almighty power it is expressible to the degree he desires. (1 John 4:8; Job 12:13; 37:23) God’s anger is not futile. It is fully based on sufficient cause and always takes effect. His anger is satisfied and quieted only by the application of his principles. For example, in Israel a willful murderer could not be ransomed. Only by the shedding of his blood could the land be cleansed and free from God’s displeasure. (Num. 35:16-18, 30-33) But an arrangement was made on the basis of sacrifices and the services of the high priest to satisfy justice and to allay the anger of the God-ordained avenger of blood, whose heart may have been “hot.” This was the provision of the cities of refuge.—Deut. 19:4-7.
The anger of Jehovah can be allayed or satisfied only when justice is fully carried out. God’s wrath is against all unrighteousness. He will not tolerate unrighteousness nor exempt from punishment one deserving it. (Ex. 34:7; Hab. 1:13) His anger may be relieved and turned away, however, on the basis of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who bore the pains and chastisement justly due to those who come to exercise faith. (Isa. 53:5) By means of this arrangement, Jehovah God is able to exhibit his own righteousness, “that he might be righteous even when declaring righteous the man that has faith in Jesus.” (Rom. 3:26) In this way justice is fully satisfied and yet God has a basis on which to extend mercy. Anyone who is disobedient has the wrath of God remaining upon him. (John 3:36) But when one exercises faith, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ saves him from the wrath of God.—1 Thess. 1:10.
Means for expressing and causes of anger
God’s anger may be expressed directly or indirectly. He may use his laws governing natural things, or he may use other persons as instruments to express his anger. Those who violate his moral laws are under his wrath and receive in themselves “the full recompense, which was due for their error.” These suffer a disapproved mental state, degradation, diseases, strife and death. (Rom. 1:18, 24, 27-32) When a person violates laws of the land that are in harmony with God’s laws and is punished by the governmental authority, this is an indirect expression of God’s wrath against that one. (Rom. 13:1-4) Jesus Christ is the chief executioner of God’s anger, and will completely express God’s wrath to fulfill his anger against the wicked.—Jer. 30:23, 24; Rev. 19:7-16, 19-21.
Wrong attitudes and actions toward God’s chosen ones will provoke his anger. The Egyptians were plagued because of not letting Israel worship Jehovah. (Ps. 78:43-50) Miriam and Aaron felt the heat of divine anger because of disrespect for Moses’ God-appointed position. (Num. 12:9, 10) Jehovah’s anger was against judges who oppressed the lowly. (Isa. 10:1-4) Those who hinder the preaching of the “good news” are in line for God’s wrath.—1 Thess. 2:16.
Jehovah is provoked to anger by false worship, especially when his professed people turn away to other gods. (Ex. 32:7-10; Num. 25:3, 4; Judg. 2:13, 14, 20; 1 Ki. 11:8, 9) His anger is aroused by immorality, by suppression of the truth, unrepentance, disobedience to the “good news,” despising his words and mocking at his prophets, covetousness, injuriousness, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malicious disposition, those who are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, insolent ones, haughty, self-assuming, inventors of injurious things, disobedient to parents, false to agreements, merciless, spiritists, liars—all of these and the practice of any other unrighteousness are causes for God’s anger.—Col. 3:5, 6; 2 Thess. 1:8; Rom. 1:18, 29-31; 2:5, 8; 2 Chron. 36:15, 16; Rev. 22:15.
Anger not a dominant quality
However, Jehovah God is “slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18) If one fears Jehovah and works righteousness, he will receive mercy from Jehovah, for the Almighty recognizes man’s inherited imperfection and shows mercy to him on this account and on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice. (Ps. 103:13, 14; Gen. 8:21; see also Zephaniah 2:2, 3.) He checks his anger in behalf of his name and in order to carry out his purpose toward his chosen people. (Isa. 48:9; Joel 2:13, 14) Jehovah’s anger in time passes from those who truly serve him and acknowledge their sin and repent. (Isa. 12:1; Ps. 30:5) He is not an angry God but a happy God, not unapproachable, but pleasant, peaceful and calm toward those who properly approach his presence. (1 Tim. 1:11; Ps. 16:11; compare Revelation 4:3.) This is in contrast to the angry, merciless, cruel characteristics ascribed to the false gods of the pagans and portrayed in images of these gods.
Man’s expression of anger may be proper if it is based on principle. One may rightly express righteous indignation. We are commanded to “abhor what is wicked.” (Rom. 12:9) The Bible provides numerous examples of righteous indignation.—Ex. 11:8; 32:19; Num. 16:12-15; 1 Sam. 20:34; Neh. 5:6; Esther 7:7; see also 2 Samuel 12:1-6.
However, the anger of man is more often unjustified and many times uncontrolled. It is often based on insufficient causes and expressed without due regard for the consequences. After Jehovah had spared Nineveh, Jonah was displeased, “and he got to be hot with anger.” Jonah lacked mercy and had to be corrected by Jehovah. (Jonah 4:1-11) King Uzziah of Judah became enraged when corrected by the priests of Jehovah and went ahead in his presumptuous course, for which he was punished. (2 Chron. 26:16-21) Naaman’s ill-advised pride caused indignation and rage on his part, almost costing him the loss of a blessing from God.—2 Ki. 5:10-14.
Vital need for control
Unjustified and uncontrolled anger has led many persons into greater sin, even acts of violence. “Cain grew hot with great anger” and slew Abel. (Gen. 4:5, 8) Esau wanted to kill Jacob, who received the blessing of their father. (Gen. 27:41-45) Saul in his rage hurled spears at David and Jonathan. (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10; 20:30-34) Those in attendance at the synagogue in Nazareth, aroused to anger by Jesus’ preaching, endeavored to hurl him from the brow of a mountain. (Luke 4:28, 29) Angered religious leaders “rushed upon [Stephen] with one accord” and stoned him to death.—Acts 7:54-60.
Anger, even when justified, if not controlled, may be dangerous, producing bad results. Simeon and Levi had reason to be indignant at Shechem for violating their sister Dinah, though some of the blame was hers. But the wanton slaughter of the Shechemites was over and beyond the proper penalty to inflict. Hence their father Jacob denounced their uncontrolled anger, cursing it. (Gen. 34:1-31; 49:5-7) When under heavy provocation one should control his anger. The complaint and rebelliousness of the Israelites provoked Moses, the meekest man on the earth, to an uncontrolled act of anger in which he failed to sanctify Jehovah, and for which he was punished.—Num. 12:3; 20:10-12; Ps. 106:32, 33.
Fits of anger are classified along with other detestable works of the flesh, such as loose conduct, idolatry, practice of spiritism and drunken bouts. Such will keep one from inheriting God’s kingdom. (Gal. 5:19-21) Angry talk is to be kept out of the congregation. Carrying on of prayer will help to accomplish this. (1 Tim. 2:8) Christians are commanded to be slow about wrath, being told that man’s wrath does not work out God’s righteousness. (Jas. 1:19, 20) They are counseled to “yield place to the wrath” and to leave vengeance to Jehovah. (Rom. 12:19) One cannot be used as an overseer in the congregation of God if he is prone to wrath.—Titus 1:7.
While one may on occasion be angry and sometimes justifiably so, he should not let it become sin to him by harboring it or maintaining a provoked state. He should not let the sun set with him in such a condition, for he would thereby allow place for the Devil to take advantage of him. (Eph. 4:26, 27) Especially if it is a case of anger between Christian brothers, he should take proper steps to make peace or get the matter settled in the God-provided way. (Lev. 19:17, 18; Matt. 5:23, 24; 18:15; Luke 17:3, 4) The Scriptures counsel that we should watch our associations in this regard, not having companionship with anyone given to anger or fits of rage, thereby avoiding a snare for our souls.—Prov. 22:24, 25.
Jesus Christ, when a man on earth, gave us the perfect example. The records of his life do not recount one occasion where he had a fit of uncontrolled anger or where he allowed the lawlessness, rebelliousness and harassment of the enemies of God to upset his spirit and cause him to reflect such a thing toward his followers or others. On one occasion he was “thoroughly grieved” at the insensibility of the hearts of the Pharisees and looked upon them with indignation. His next act was an act of healing. (Mark 3:5) When he, in another instance, drove out those who were defiling God’s temple as well as violating the law of Moses by making Jehovah’s house a house of merchandise, it was through no uncontrolled, unjustified fit of anger. Rather, the Scriptures show that it was properly directed zeal for the house of Jehovah.—John 2:13-17.
Avoiding the damaging effects
Not only does anger have an adverse effect upon our spiritual health, but it produces profound effects on the physical organism. It can cause rise in blood pressure, arterial changes, respiratory trouble, liver upsets, changes in the secretion of gall, effects on the pancreas. Anger and rage, as strong emotions, have been listed by physicians as contributing to, aggravating or even causing such ailments as asthma, eye afflictions, skin diseases, hives, ulcers and dental and digestive troubles. Rage and fury can upset thinking processes so that one cannot form logical conclusions or pass sound judgment. The aftermath of a fit of rage is often a period of extreme mental depression. It is therefore wisdom not only in a religious sense but in a physical sense to keep anger under control and to pursue peace and love.—Prov. 14:29, 30; Rom. 14:19; Jas. 3:17; 1 Pet. 3:11.
According to the Scriptures, the “time of the end” is a time of rage and fury, with the nations becoming angry at Jehovah’s taking over his power to reign, and the Devil being hurled to the earth, “having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.” (Rev. 11:17, 18; 12:10-12) With such strenuous conditions, the Christian will do well to control his spirit, avoiding the destructive emotion of anger.—Prov. 14:29; Eccl. 7:9.