Skip to main content

A brief theology of anger

Is Gordon Brown a bully? That is a question that has received a great deal of media attention this week. Is he in the habit of grabbing staff by the collar, shoving them out of way or throwing things across the room? Does he shout, lose his temper and generally intimidate the staff at Number 10 - resulting in several employees phoning bullying help-lines?

It is unlikely that the truth behind these accusations will be easy to ascertain. This FNT article does not intend to explore the allegations to understand what’s true or false. Instead of considering whether or not Gordon Brown needs to book himself into an anger management course, this article introduces what the Bible has to say about anger.

Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, said, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matthew 5:22,22a) Challenging words! However, later in the book of Matthew (21:12,13) we read of Jesus, overturning the moneychangers tables in the temple – now if that’s not a display of anger I don’t know what is!!

So what are we to make of this? Was Jesus guilty of hypocrisy, saying one thing yet doing another? That would seem unlikely! Instead, it is common for commentators to use these two passages to distinguish between two types of anger - bad anger and good anger. It’s also a distinction that many anger management courses make.

Bad anger is anger that is unreasonable, hateful and often selfish in its origin. Its outcomes can be abusive, violent and usually uncontrolled. It’s the anger of road rage, someone in front of us makes a mistake, no one expects us to be happy about it, but surely it’s unreasonable to get so worked up about it and wrong to think hateful thoughts and shout unkind words. After all, what good does it do anyone? I suspect it was bad anger that Jesus was comparing to murder.

Good anger is the anger that Jesus displayed the day he overturned the tables of the moneychangers. It wasn’t selfish, he was angry because what they were doing was wrong. The motivation behind good anger is pure. It’s not unreasonable, selfish or hateful. However, it’s not simply motivation that is important, it’s also how the emotion of anger is outworked. I would suggest that Jesus’ actions were appropriate, controlled and achieved a positive outcome. Surely it’s OK to be angry when we discover that MPs have been abusing the expenses system. However, that doesn’t mean a hateful and abusive, even violent, response is appropriate – that wouldn’t lead to a positive outcome. When we learn that countless children are dying each day because they are living in abject poverty, anger would certainly seem to be an appropriate emotion. But, what does that anger motivate us to do?

The Bible doesn’t just talk about our anger; it reveals a God who gets angry. Many people seem to have a picture of God that resembles the behaviour that Gordon Brown is being accused of, a God who lashes out when he gets annoyed. That’s not the picture the Bible paints. God’s anger is not unreasonable and random, it’s reasonable and specific – God anger is directed at sin (Romans 2:5-8). We may struggle to understand the ins and outs of the outworking of God’s anger, but we have to trust him, acknowledging his perfection and goodness, accepting that his actions are more appropriate than we can imagine and are leading towards a positive outcome. The Bible certainly reveals a God who is able to control his anger (Psalm 103:8,9). We’d be in trouble if he couldn’t!

Phil Green, Public Theology Research Assistant


Popular posts from this blog

When God turns a deaf ear on prayers

Does God always hear people’s prayers, or do some pray in vain thinking that God hears them, when in reality He chooses to turn a deaf hear to their cries? Some may perhaps have a notion that all prayers are worthy, and God being who He is is by nature willing to listen and hear their prayers delightfully. They entertain the notion that it is their birth right for God to listen to their prayers and answer them accordingly. Also, there are some who come before the presence of the Lord with severe doubts, defeated by the devils whisper that they are such an unworthy soul that for them to lift up their cries to the Lord is an abomination. They are mute by their own wickedness, depressed and thus fail to pray.

What does the scripture say about God turning a deaf hear to prayers? It is to be said that God is sovereign and can choose to answer any prayer as He sees fit. He is altogether happy and never backed into a corner, God always does whatever He pleases for He is free to do as He wills…

What does it mean to live a godly life?

If you ever asked yourself the question, what does it mean to live a godly life? and if your not exactly sure what living a godly life involves, this extract taking from Charles Seet book 'A Christian in a non-Christian world' provides ample guidance on just what to do.

Now it is worth asking the question then, 'What does it mean to live godly?' It does not mean that we are just to confine ourselves within a set of rules and regulations. Some people reduce godly living to a list of 'do’s and don'ts.' But the meaning of godly living goes far deeper than that.

Godly living means living in the manner that God wants us to live. It means having the same feelings, attitudes and heart's desires that God has. It means that we love the things that God loves, care for the things that God cares for, and dislike those things which He dislikes. And since God loves righteousness, a godly person also loves righteousness. Since God hates sin, a godly person also hates …

Women of the Bible: Adah and Zillah

The Sin of Adam and Eve resulted in the fall of humanity. Every generation after them became wicked and that is why scripture affirms, ‘that there is no one righteous, no, not even one.’ Mankind became enslave to the passions of its flesh, its desires became its ruler and men followed the natural dictates of their hearts; and were it not for Sovereign grace, the race of men would now only be read of by angels in the library of extinct creatures. Adam and Eve witnessed the consequences of their sin in the death of their beloved son, Abel, by the hands of Cain who murdered his brother in anger and was thus sent away from the presence of God. My dear sisters, sin is not only sin when it is found in its extremes, sin is also sin in its subtlety and vanity. Sin is sin when one's affection is set on another and not on God, when one lives to please a thing or a being which is not God; this is also sin.
This becomes especially evident in the lives of Adah and Zillah the wives of Lamech. Th…