Elenor Roosevelt observed, “Anger is only one letter short of danger.” Someone said, “Anger is like acid that does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Unresolved anger is a poison that releases sin’s destructive influence in our lives.
Genesis 4 records the first person to have anger management issues. Cain got so furious it fueled the first murder (fratricide—the killing of one’s brother). Cain got mad at God for rejecting his sacrifice, then he got mad at his brother, Abel, whose offering God accepted. Ironically, the first murder was over religion.
Abel’s offering was accepted; Cain’s was rejected. Why? Cain brought fruit he worked to produce, he came to God on his own terms, he brought what he wanted God to have. Abel brought a lamb (a blood sacrifice), he came on God’s terms, he brought what God wanted. The precedent was set in the Garden of Eden—the only way sinful man can be accepted in the presence of a holy God is with a blood sacrifice (Gen. 3:21). “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
These two brothers represent two religions: Cain represents the religion of works (man’s effort to reach God); Abel represents the religion of grace (God’s effort to reach man). “And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry” (Gen. 4:4-5). God must have indicated His favor with some visible sign. Otherwise, how did Cain know Abel’s offering was accepted? “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Heb. 11:4).
God asked Cain, “Why are you angry? . . . If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door” (Gen. 4:7). Jealousy sparked anger which triggered murder. We live in an angry society. Don’t believe it? Take someone’s parking spot, try to cut in line, or honk your horn at somebody. Symptoms of an angry society abound: road rage, abuse, divorce, prejudice, violence, and crime (over 20,000 murders are committed yearly in the U.S.).
Is it a sin to get angry? It depends on how we react. Paul instructed, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Eph. 4:26-27). We can’t always prevent the things that make us angry, but we can control how we react. We are created in God’s image to feel emotions, but we also need to be like Him in how we control them. “The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Ps. 145:8). James, Jesus’ brother, advised, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20). We should get angry at things that anger God like sin, abortion, injustice, exploiting people, human trafficking, slavery, and more.
Remember, Jesus got angry when he ran the thieves out of the Temple with a whip. Pure religion had been replaced by a scam. The merchants and moneychangers were price gouging pilgrims who came to observe Passover. With righteous indignation Jesus cleansed the Temple TWICE, once at the start of His ministry (Jn. 2:13-17) and again at the end (Mt. 21:12-13). Jesus also got mad at the hypocrisy of religious leaders and at the unbelief and petty jealousy of His disciples who argued over who was the greatest (Lk. 22:24-26).
How to be angry without sinning:
- Be sure anger is justifiable. Make sure it’s a legitimate reason not just some minor issue or an overreaction? Jesus cautioned, “I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Mt. 5:22). “Just cause we want to” is not a valid reason to be angry.
- Don’t react in a sinful way. Moses lost his temper twice and it got him in trouble with God both times. He was livid when he came down from Mt. Sinai and saw the Israelites dancing naked and worshipping the golden calf. However, he reacted wrongly by smashing the Ten Commandments on the ground (Ex. 32:15-20). Another time he was so vexed with their chronic complaining, he smote the rock with his rod instead of speaking to it to get water. It cost him a trip to Canaan Land (Num. 20:1-13). He was upset for the right reasons, but he reacted in wrong ways.
- Resolve anger quickly. It’s not a sin to get angry (if it’s justifiable); it’s a sin to STAY angry. “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:9). If we let anger fester, we open the door to sin’s destructive influence. As God told irate Cain, “Sin lies at the door.”
- Direct your anger at the right source. Focus on the actual issues that cause anger. Don’t attack people with accusations and insults. That is counterproductive and only stirs up strife. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pr. 15:1).
- Don’t retaliate. If someone mistreats you, remember, two wrongs never make a right. Paul wrote, “Repay no one evil for evil . . . Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17, 19, 21). Don’t take matters into your own hands and try to get even. Instead, keep your spirit right and let God deal with people. As one Preacher said, “I’m not going to try to get even. I’m going to tell God on you.” If someone mistreats you, tell God on them. He can deal with them and change their heart. “No matter how much someone deserves your anger, it doesn’t hurt that person as much as it hurts you.
- Stall for Time. The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk. Thomas Jefferson famously said, “When angry count to ten, if very angry count to a hundred.” Wait to speak or act until you’ve cooled off. Otherwise, you’ll say or do hurtful things you’ll regret later.
There are three main options for dealing with anger:
Option #1. Repress it. Some people hold it all inside which is not healthy. This results in the radiator effect—like a hot coke bottle shaken up, the pressure accumulates, and when you open the lid, there is an explosion. Harboring rage in your heart is like poison to your spirit. Prolonged anger produces poor health because your brain is on full alert (like being attacked by a dog). It causes a wide range of harmful symptoms from the stress on your body and mind.
Option #2. Express it. There are valid ways to express legitimate anger but some people wear their feelings on their sleeves and have “short fuse syndrome.” They vent, explode, and lash out verbally at the drop of a hat, damaging relationships, and nobody wants to be around them. Solomon warned, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression” (Pr. 29:22). A student told his teacher, “I lose my temper occasionally, but it’s all over in just a minute.” The teacher replied, “So is the atom bomb, but think of the damage it produces.” Billy Graham said, “Hot heads and cold hearts never solve anything.” Remember, one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Pr. 16:32).
Option #3. Address it with forgiveness. “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Someone said, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Forgiveness is forfeiting your right to hurt someone because they hurt you. Pull the plug on anger. Let it drain out of your spirit like dirty bath water from a tub. If you’ve been mistreated, abused, hurt, offended, or rejected, give those hurts to God. Let it go. Don’t hold on to grudges, bitterness, and resentment. They are toxic to your spirit and keep you in emotional and mental bondage. Forgive and God will deliver you from the danger of unresolved anger!