Anger seems like such a basic emotion. We list it right along with happy and sad. But anger is a qualitatively different emotion that requires careful study and examination if we are to understand it. As believers we get the added benefit of being able to evaluate anger with a biblical lens. This article will provide an overview of anger from a biblical perspective. Our next article will provide information and tools that parents can use to help their children identify, express and manage their feelings of anger.
1) Anger is a cover-up emotion. As stated above, we have come to view anger as a primary emotion. In fact, we often view anger like the color wheel – three primary emotions (happy, sad and angry) that we can mix together to create all other feelings. But, contrary to popular belief, anger is not a stand-alone emotion. Anger is the manifestation of an underlying root feeling. These root feelings can include: frustration, annoyance, hurt, jealousy, guilt, embarrassment, impatience, powerlessness, grief, etc. If we take the time to pause and peel back the layers of our anger, we will find the underlying emotion from which it stemmed. Often times that emotion looks nothing like the anger that we express.
2) Superficial anger causes a physical response. Anger is very powerful and creates a physiological response in the person experiencing the emotion. Clenched teeth and fists, pursed lips, increased heart rate, rapid breathing and perspiration are all outward signs that anger is acting as an emotional cover-up.
3) Righteous anger is completely different from “cover-up” anger. Righteous anger is fueled by a sense of indignation over things that are contrary to God. We see righteous anger in action in the life of Jesus. He got angry when people made a mockery of His Father’s house (John 2:13-17) and when the Pharisees used their position of leadership to turn people from following God with their hearts to following a set of man-made laws instead (Mark 3:5, Matthew 23:33). Righteous anger comes from a passion for God’s truth. We, too, can experience this type of anger but it is less common. It is less common because we tend to be focused on things that offend us rather than things that offend God.
4) The Bible is not contradictory on this issue. Some passages in Scripture seem to be at odds with one another on the topic of anger:
Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
This makes it seem like it is okay to be angry as long as we don’t sin and as long as we deal with it when it is still fresh. And then soon after we read:
Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
Now this verse seems to indicate that we should not get angry at all.
Well, which is it?
I think the answer lies with Jesus (as it usually does). Jesus got angry and He was perfect. So from this we can determine that the kind of anger Jesus felt and expressed is not a sin. The problem for us (and our kids) is that we rarely feel and express that kind of anger.
The first passage above is a warning about righteous anger. We need to make sure that it does not fester and turn into something that will lead us to sin. Even righteous anger can give the devil a foothold if we are not careful (Ephesians 4:27).
The kind of anger that we are to “get rid of” is the kind that is covering up a root emotion. We can get rid of it by uncovering the real reason behind the anger and using tools to help us express that emotion appropriately.
Our next article will address how you can help your children do just that.
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