Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)

A couple weeks ago, I read a blog post that stated emotions can’t be sins. They just are, and how we act on them determines whether or not we’re sinning. The example they used was anger. For proof, they cited all the times God is described as angry. Because God is incapable of sin, this demonstrates that anger can’t be inherently sinful.

I knew the verses they were talking about, but just out of curiosity I ran a word search to see how often God is described as angry. 208 verses. That’s out of 268 verses in the KJV containing the word anger in any context. Anger is only used 60 times that it’s not in reference to God, and this isn’t even counting words like fury and wrath.

click to read article, "Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Angry” by Rodrigo Suriani, CC BY via Flickr

Wow. That’s far more than I’d expected. The sheer number of verses wasn’t the only interesting thing, though. There’s also a marked difference in how the Bible talks about God’s anger and human anger. God’s anger is always righteous, ours not so much.

Why is God Angry?

God knows how the universe works and He clues us in through His scriptures. The blessings for good and the curses for evil are a fact of life. God is telling us, “If you make a, b, c life choices things will turn out good, but if you make x, y, z life choices things will turn out bad.” It pleases Him when we choose the path to life.

By the same token, it grieves and upsets God when people reject what is good. He’s angered when people who’ve said they will follow Him turn away, and He’s angered by injustice wicked men commit. This anger isn’t just something that comes out of the blue — God is very open about the consequences of and His reaction to sin.

All nations would say, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ Then people would say: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. (Deut. 29:25-27)

As we touched on in “But What If God Scares Me?”, God’s anger is an expression of His righteousness and love. Of righteousness because justice does not let sin go unpunished and of love because God hates to see people choose death instead of life. In fact the cycles of punishment for disobedience and blessings for obedience we see in Israel’s history are a sign of God’s favor. He didn’t give up on His people.

Even though Israel rebelled, “You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (Neh. 9:17). God longs for His people to learn from the mistakes that provoked His anger and come back to Him. He delights in mercy, promising to those that repent, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him” (Hos. 14:1, 4). click to read article, "Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Though God’s mercy is abundant, scripture does speak of a day of future wrath. The world is steeped in wickedness and it will face judgment for that. But even then the ultimate plan is to save humanity and renew creation. God’s anger never leads Him to lose control. It is measured, motivated by His goodness, and used to accomplish His plan.

What About Our Anger?

In Ephesians, Paul writes, “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 often read this as permission to get angry. It’s okay as long as we don’t sin and remember to let go of wrath before the day ends. That’s a valid reading, but I think perhaps we take it too far at times. Just a few sentences later, after the admonition “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” we read this:

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:31-32)

Why is it okay for God to get angry, but we’re supposed to put anger and wrath out of our lives? One clue is found in Romans 12:19, where it says, “give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.” Wrath moves us to take action against the object of our anger. but if we do that, we’re taking on a role of judge and avenger that God has reserved to Himself.click to read article, "Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

We can get angry for good reasons. Moses was angry (as was God) when he saw Israel committing idolatry at the foot of the mountain where they’d just received the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). “Jonathan arose from the table in fierce anger” because he was grieved by his father’s shameful behavior toward his best friend (1 Sam. 20:34). Jesus got angry with hypocrites who would rather trap Him in breaking a man-made rule than see Him heal a cripple (Mark 3:5). But it’s rare that people can get angry and not sin. Take a look at what Solomon has to say:

A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated. (Prov. 14.17)

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Prov. 16.32)

An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. (Prov. 29:22)

Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools. (Ecc. 7:9)

Our anger is rarely in line with God’s righteousness (James 1:20). It leads to things like strife and outbursts of wrath, which are not of the holy spirit (Gal. 5:20). It’s often motivated by pride or foolish wickedness (Prov. 21:24). Far better that we learn to rule our spirits and be slow to anger, which is also an attribute of God (Neh. 9:17; Ps. 78:38; 103:8-9; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Nah. 1:3). We must learn to rule our emotions and submit to God’s will if we want to be like Him. Only then can we “be angry, and sin not.”

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5 thoughts on “Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)

  1. Your title lead me to believe you were going to support the concept of anger not being a sin. It made it confusing to read this article. The concepts you seem to be espousing didn’t become clear to me until near the end.

    I’ve heard this take on anger before. I strongly disagree in ways that are hard to express clearly and concisely. I think it has to do with underlying values. I think God gave us spirits with the ability to be angry from the very beginning. I think it is an important part of life, and that most people now are afraid of it to the detriment of their spirit.

    Anger is like fire. It can be used to destroy and kill. But we use it all the time in our homes. If we espouse anger by way of intimidation, or as a virtue to keep burning relentlessly, we are courting danger and showing our foolishness.

    Christian culture is awash in postmodernism. Specifically, emotional perceptions and reasonings are exalted above the intellect and we end up able to justify all kinds of things that God never intended. As a result many christians think that love is about being nice. An angry person is unpleasant, therefore he/she isn’t considered loving and is sinning.

    People don’t say this out loud. I wonder if they even really introspect and see what they believe. They usually say something else, then change their tune when they see someone who is angry. It is very frustrating.

    I’m tired, … and have been burned on this topic. The last people I was trying to get help from had your point of view, but told me up front that they knew anger wasn’t a sin. It turns out that I’m not allowed to be angry about character assassination and other abuse — because I’m not Jesus. (Neither am I allowed to expect repentance for reconciliation to take place — same reason).

    I don’t think a person can be anything like Christ if they don’t get angry… and not just about “christiany”, “bibley” things. Samson asked for vengeance for his two eyes, and God said yes. David wrote imprecatory psalms that contain curses. Most people just write these things off and ignore them. I think we don’t understand anger until we dig in and understand them completely.

    Hope I was clear.. Eh.. .just skimmed it, and it isn’t clear. I’m tired… I may very well wake up in the morning with a keyboard impressed into my face. 🙂

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    • Since you said you just skimmed my post and it didn’t seem clear, let me try to sum-up my points in a couple sentences:
      -God’s anger is always righteous and He uses it for good.
      -Human anger isn’t necessarily a sin. People do get angry for good reasons and without sinning, as Moses, Jonathan, and Jesus did (those are the examples I used but, as you mentioned, there are others)
      -There are, however, verses warning us that acting in anger can lead to sin and even some verses bluntly telling us to put away anger and wrath.
      -For human anger not to become sin, we must 1) let go of it before it becomes a deep, burning, destructive wrath, 2) turn vengeance over to God, and 3) follow God’s example of being “slow to anger”

      I think the key to the incidents you mentioned with Samson and David is that they turned their anger over to God. They got angry and they expressed their anger, but then they “gave place to wrath” and claimed God’s promise “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” That’s something I mentioned in the post when quoting Romans 12:19. Anger isn’t a sin, but acting on it can be if we take vengeance into our own hands.

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      • I actually meant that I skimmed my own comment, and thought it was unclear. I was tired and was all over the place. Thank you for your reply. I’m afraid I came across as antagonistic.

        I agree that Samson.and David submitted to God. I tend to think of it more as submitting their wills, rather than their anger in specific. I doubt that they gave a second thought to the emotion itself.

        The reason that the Samson example interested me is because the the cause was so personal. And I didn’t stop with the feeling. Most Christians I know would think the cause shallow and selfish. They would think it terrible to ask God to punish. Asking God for permission to carry out the deadly vengeance himself — well, they usually wouldn’t say that his anger had been submitted to God.

        Samson’s story is in the Bible and we don’t directly see the anger… But it is rare to see live expressions of deep, real anger that aren’t considered sin among christians. It doesn’t have to get anywhere near death or vengeance.

        I think people are largely unaware of the inconsistency. That is the bigger problem, IMHO.

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        • My apologies — it appears I mis-read your comment. Thanks for writing back 🙂

          Yes, the inconsistency’s a problem. We do need to be able to look at and talk about the complete picture of anger — to find balance between the NT verses saying to put off anger and the Proverbs saying anger’s not a good thing, and the examples of good people getting angry without it being counted as a sin.

          There’s always the tendency to head for one ditch or the other when talking about scriptural issues. Add to that our knee-jerk reactions when confronted by something like anger, and its easy to say one thing and do another. Definitely something to guard against.

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  2. How to deal when anger blocks (hides) words. Words only reluctantly come when calm and introspective, distant from the situation. Word blockage fuels the anger. Repressing anger results in an untrustworthy response. Avoidance impresses as a cowardly display.

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