An analysis of anger

At an after-church bring-and-share meal Ray informed us that, on his way home that afternoon, he would take a detour to visit his wife – a person I’d never seen with him at church during our three-year membership. ‘Is she in a care home?’ I enquired. ‘No, I visit her grave,’ he told me before detailing her very sudden death thirty years earlier at the age of 49. ‘I’d taken her for dental treatment. From the waiting room I could hear a lot of hectic activity before they told me that she had died and they were trying, unsuccessfully, to revive her on the surgery floor. Her death was caused by a brain haemorrhage. I was so cross with her in the months that followed, as I couldn’t even cook an egg! And I was angry with him for a long time too,’ he added, pointing upward. This triggered a desire in me to examine what the Bible tells us about anger. Is it a virtue or a vice?  .

  1. It is a Divine ability

The plain statement in Psalm 7:11 [all references from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated] that God ‘is angry with the wicked every day’ informs us that anger is a constant attribute of God’s own nature. Therefore, since humans are made in his image, we will also be able to feel and express anger as an aspect of our nature.

As I prepared to compile this study, my daily Bible reading included the book of Deuteronomy. Moses had gathered the tribes together just before his death to prepare them for life in the Promised Land that they were about to enter and inhabit. He warned them several times against provoking the Lord to anger by failing to obey all the contents of ‘this Book of Instructions’ that detailed his will for them. Should they ‘follow … the desires of [their] stubborn heart . . . This would lead to utter ruin’ because ‘The Lord’s . . . anger and jealousy will burn against them’ (see Deuteronomy 29:19-21 and 24). And ‘In great anger and fury the Lord [would] uproot … his people from their land and banish … them to another land’ (Deuteronomy 29:28).

Thankfully, we are frequently reminded that the Lord is ‘slow to anger’ (see, for instance, Exodus 34:6 and Jonah 4:2).

  1. It has Dynamics

Taking Ephesians 4:31 as a starting point we find a list of what Paul elsewhere calls ‘works of the flesh’. He tells believers to ‘Get rid of all bitterness [A], rage [B], anger [B], harsh words [V], and slander [V], as well as all types of evil behaviour [B].’ The words that I have highlighted indicate that anger can be Attitudinal, Verbal and Behavioural.

In Romans 2:8-9 Paul used two Greek nouns related to God’s anger, and placed them in logical order: ‘he will pour out his anger [Greek = orge] and wrath [Greek = thumos] on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on doing what is evil.’

According to W. E. Vine’s ‘Dictionary of New Testament Words’ orge implies a state of mind (like glowing coal in a household fire) and thumos indicates more of a blazing fire that could set the chimney aflame.’ The word thumos is even written in the plural form in 2 Corinthians 12:20 (literally ‘angers in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament): ‘I am afraid that when I come … I will find [eight features of anger:] quarreling [V], jealousy [A], anger [B], selfishness [A], slander [V], gossip [V], arrogance [B], and disorderly behaviour.’

The Hebrew term for anger suggests that huffing and puffing characterise its manifestation, since aph refers to the nostril or nose. Job 4:9 tells us that ‘A breath from God destroys them. They vanish in a blast of his anger.’

Another dynamic of anger in the Old Testament is the concept of fire: ‘My anger blazes forth like fire and burns to the depths of the grave’ (Deuteronomy 32:22 describes God’s anger as does 29:20 – both translated thumos in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament).

  1. It can be Dangerous

[] It could make you look daft: ‘People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness’; indeed, ‘short-tempered people do foolish things’ (Proverbs 14:17).

[] It can be divisive: ‘A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them’ (Proverbs 15:18). When Paul warned Christians: ‘don’t sin by letting anger control you’ (Ephesians 4:26) he was quoting the wisdom of King David word for word, lyrics of his that were sung in Israel’s public worship (see Psalm 4:4). The fire-related vocabulary reminds us that controlled fire can produce steam that has empowered railway trains worldwide, but when out of control, fire has caused massive damage such as by contemporary fires in the forests of many nations. It is easier to cause a fire than to control it or extinguish it.

[] It can be destructive: In the 22 chapters after Proverbs 1 – 9, twenty-six verses refer to a hot temper, anger and quarreling. They include such sound counsel as: ‘Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul’ (Proverbs 22:24-25). And ‘Starting a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so stop before a dispute breaks out’ (Proverbs 17:14). (Here are two quotations from my wife’s copy of ‘Word for Today’ on anger management.) [] According to Dr. Redford Williams, Professor of Psychology and Behaviour Studies at Duke University: ‘People who struggle with anger are five times more likely to suffer coronary disease, and people with heart disease more than double their risk of a heart attack when they get angry.’ [] ‘In 2017 over half of all homicides in England and Wales were the result of … anger.’

*Because ‘we are members of one another’ in Christ, we can ‘Be angry’ within ourselves, [Greek = Middle Voice] but ‘not sin’ by blazing forth to others. Paul adds: ‘do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Ephesians 4:25-26, English Standard Version). David too planned not to go to sleep angry: ‘Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your hearts on your beds and be silent’ so that: ‘In peace I will both lie down and sleep’ (Psalm 4:4 and 8 ESV).

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