The Manna of Anger

Sharing Options

The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.

Dear Gabrielle,

Your question makes an important distinction, but unless it is carefully watched it will smudge together with the other things we have been talking about—bitterness, malice, hatred, lack of forgiveness, and so on. You asked about the role of anger, and the appropriateness of anger. Is it a sin to be angry about what happened to you?

My answer might surprise you, but will also reveal the need for the distinctions I just mentioned. I actually believe it would be a sin not to be angry about what happened to you. But . . .

But before getting into that, let me say again why I am so concerned about responses like malicious resentment or hatred, and so interested in helping you steer clear of anything remotely like that—and then relate that to your question about anger. Your father wronged you in grievous ways, but there are ways of responding to him that simply perpetuate his wrong-doing. There is a way of being bitter that keeps him in charge, and makes sure that he and his sin remain the dominant and controlling element of your life. He did destructive things to you, and if you also do destructive things to yourself in response, then what you are actually doing is teaming up with him in order to “beat up on” Gabrielle.

In other words, there is a response to him that feels like it is contrary to him, but which is actually saying amen to his treatment of you. What we want for you is for you to be able to walk away free.

Anger is in a different category than malice or bitterness. And that is because the Bible describes instances where anger is the righteous response. Let me give you a few instances of that, and then go on to make the distinctions and applications.

The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus was angry when He cleansed the Temple, but I would argue that He almost certainly was. He certainly did not do that work in a calm and dispassionate way. “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17). The one place where it does say that Jesus got angry is with the episode of the man in the synagogue with a withered hand.

“And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Mark 3:5).

But notice in this the consequences of Christ’s anger. The result of His anger was a cleansed Temple and a healed hand. When Christ got angry, the result was positive, constructive. When we get angry, the result is more often a hole in the sheet rock or some broken dishes.

And yet, even though it is easy for us to do it wrong, we are commanded to be angry under certain circumstances, and in a certain way.

“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26).

The phrase be ye angry is translating a command. It is an imperative—be angry. But it says two things in effect. Paul says be angry and be careful. In saying this, he is quoting from the Psalms. “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah” (Ps. 4:4, ESV). So Scripture says that we are to be angry, but Paul also adds that we are to take pains to avoid falling into sin with that anger. The nature of that kind of sin can be seen just a few verses down.

“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).

The way he tells us to keep our anger from going rancid is by refusing to let the sun go down on it. If we take our example from the Lord, we can add two other criteria. The first is that the provocation to anger must be an affront to righteousness, not an affront to our own egos. Second, the anger must motivate us to some constructive action. If it is indeterminate, and just wants to smash “something,” then it is man’s anger—and Scripture is plain on this point also. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19–20, ESV).

Carnal anger does not advance God’s kingdom. It does not do useful work. So if we are angered by something that is merely an inconvenience to us, like someone driving too slowly ahead of us, then our anger is sinful. And even if it is a righteous occasion, if we do not have a constructive outlet for what we are experiencing, then we ought to resist it as a temptation. And last, even if the occasion is righteous, and there is something we think we can do about it, Paul still warns us to get it all completed before sundown.

Righteous anger in the heart of sinful men and women is like manna from heaven. It can be a gift from God and still go bad overnight. “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank” (Ex. 16:20).

So with all that said, how does your situation line up with these criteria? Your father’s offense against you, and his refusal to repent of it, presents you with a true offense, but it is a standing offense. He is in prison, and the sun has gone down many times since his sentencing. I would therefore urge you to avoid any kind of standing anger in response. The reason for that is not that the anger is unjust or misplaced, but rather that we have no way of “refrigerating it” to keep it from becoming rancid. And if it becomes rancid, it only hurts you. He wouldn’t know about it—off in prison, he is unaware of how he is affecting you. The wrong kind of anger won’t hurt him, and it will hurt you.

But let’s say that you receive a letter from him, and in it he says something particularly egregious or clueless. Let’s say that what he says in this fresh provocation makes you angry. There is no problem with that. You would have to be a block of wood or stone if you didn’t get angry. The occasion meets the criteria we have established. His offense against you is not a trifle, and your anger is not an over-reaction. Secondly, you are living in a situation where you could seek out a constructive outlet for that anger. Your aunt tells me that you have been volunteering at the counseling center, helping those who are helping others deal with situations very much like yours. Even though you are not counseling women directly, you can take your work there and offer it up to God. You can ask Him to receive it as the fruit of your anger.

This is not the same thing as merely “venting.” When you vent (whether by driving fast, or listening to loud music, or by throwing yourself into an intense workout), the point is to offload what you feel. The problem with this is that there is a law of diminishing returns at work. The more you do it, the more you find that you need to do it more. But when you translate your anger into a cleansed Temple or a healed hand, you can glorify God for the work done, and ask Him to receive it completely. And that means you can go to sleep that night without that anger twisting in your brains all night. If that were to happen, you would discover that by morning it has turned into something else, and it is a something else that is no more your friend than your father was.

Cordially . . .

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
16 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
"A" dad
"A" dad
4 years ago

Often times, Justice, the constructive reaction to wrongs, is a long term project.
We are in a war after all.
Peace and Justice are things that can be fought for.
Be in the war, but don’t be the war itself.
Be in the world, but not of the world.

Montana Mark
Montana Mark
4 years ago

I have worked for 20 years in the medical profession, and this is the clearest explanation of what I have clumsily tried to do with my patients who have suffered abuse. Now that I have seen how this plays out, Biblically, I can implement this more effectively. Can I get CME for this? Thank you Pastor Wilson

ME
ME
4 years ago

Yes. Well said. “Be ye angry…but do not sin.”

Women will often internalize anger, so it winds up more directed towards ourselves, eating disorders,cutting, addiction, and other self destructive things. Men tend to externalize their anger far more, and anger often becomes the only emotion they allow themselves to feel. Not always of course, but in general women tend to have repressed anger and anger that manifests itself in passive/aggressive ways.

bethyada
4 years ago

Anger criteria. The first is that the provocation to anger must be an affront to righteousness, not an affront to our own egos. This is key. We are to get angry and fight battles against unrighteousness. Because humans struggle with affronts to their ego, it is very hard to do this when the sin is against God and you. The everwise Abigail recognised this and advised David against striking out in anger that was both an affront to righteousness and an affront to him. Fight battles against unrighteousness for others and let God fight for you. I think this is… Read more »

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

This is standard teaching where I come from. God gave you anger so that you could defend the weak and oppose the unrighteous. My anger is to be directed to the slum landlords, the child pornographers, and the people who oppress the poor through usurious lending. Even so, it must be restrained by justice and prudence. I must be cautious about fighting my own battles because of self-deception. Especially the power of self-deception that so easily makes an offense against me an automatic offense against God. Even if my anger is justified, it may be insanely disproportionate. It will almost… Read more »

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

“Doug’s reading of “Be angry and don’t sin” is not how I understand that verse.”

I was really blessed by this pastor once who use to wield it like a commandment at me, “be ye angry!” I used to never get angry, still don’t very often. I tend to be resigned. Resigned leads to powerlessness and depression.

Be ye angry! Unless of course, you are like a biker guy who tears up a bar or something. In that case this lesson may not apply. :)

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  ME

Or even a woman who breaks dishes. Cleaning up the pieces is not worth the brief pleasure you get from doing it!

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

I use to volunteer at the recycling center with some disabled guys. The best part of all was smashing all that glass. We got to just break things for fun and for a purpose too.

bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Jill, The NET notes I posted suggested that the verse should be translated as an imperative. Be angry! But don’t sin.

I think it matters what Paul was saying, not what we find most useful.

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

In the case Doug is presenting, must the girl’s anger be only about the offense to God? If she is outraged by the offense to God, does it matter whether she is angry on her own account? What I’m trying to sort out is whether the command is that we must be angry at any wickedness which offends God but also offends ourselves. Remember when the Bishop finds out that Jean Valjean has stolen the silver. He is not remotely angry on his own behalf, while not glossing over the fact that theft offends God. If we are to be… Read more »

bethyada
4 years ago

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.… Read more »

bethyada
4 years ago

So Doug’s comment about being angry is an imperative is supported by the NET (but not the ESV NIV). This seems reasonable. I have a question about do not let the sun go down on your anger. It is not apparent what that means. Doug has taken a somewhat literal approach to the time. Sun down means deal with it that day. This seems to be consistent with Psalm 4 which says ponder on your beds and be silent, thus at the end of the same day. Pondering means deal with the issues in bed before sleep, not necessarily acting… Read more »

jillybean
jillybean
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

Bethyada, I don’t think it could make much sense unless viewed elastically. If I have nursed a resentment against my daughter all day for forgetting to pick me up at the laundromat, that anger should be dealt with before I sleep. Otherwise I will greet her the next morning with a recitation of every selfish and thoughtless thing she has done in the last five years. On the other hand, my husband told me he was leaving me for someone else while I was cooking Sunday dinner. Anyone who thinks she can resolve before bedtime the element of anger in… Read more »

ME
ME
4 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

I tend to believe that anger is a bit like grief, it has a cycle to it, a series of seasons.

So, forgive and forget the little things before the sun goes down for sure, but also set aside anger in the evening for the big things, too. To go to bed angry, even righteously so, tends to give us insomnia, indigestion, nightmares,and can wake us up in a bad mood the next day.

Daniel Fisher
Daniel Fisher
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

You piqued my curiosity – I looked up the text; my ESV has “Be angry and do not sin – maybe one of them is a different edition?
Greek has both “be angry” (orgizesthe) and “do not sin” (me hamartanete) as imperatives (one positive, one negative, of course). Same words in both Ephesians and in the Greek (Septuagint) Psalm 4; the Hebrew word in Ps4 (rgz) is broader in meaning (can mean to tremble in awe or terror as well as being angry), but it is also imperative if I’m reading it right; for whatever its worth.

bethyada
4 years ago
Reply to  Daniel Fisher

You are correct about the ESV.

Interesting to know that all are imperative.