By Jenny Fulton
My two-year-old stomps through the house, hands on her hips, blond curls bouncing along. “I not happy!” she shouts as loud as she can. She’s angry and has no qualms about making sure everyone knows it.
In a way, I envy her. There is something so beautiful about the innocence of her expression. Unlike me, she hasn’t learned to hide it.
My own experience with anger is quite different.
It begins as a slight twinge in my heart. I catch my breath and force the pain away.
The pressure builds.
It’s not allowed to be there. I must be calm. I must be loving and forgiving. This uncomfortable feeling is forbidden.
Many years of practice have enabled me to keep a straight face and serene expression while I deal with this unacceptable emotion. And by deal with I mean force it down and refuse it permission to speak.
“You never get angry,” people tell me.
Of course not. I’ve forced myself not to. Anger is a sin and is therefore something that separates us from God and divides us from each other, right? So, if I want to follow God, then I can’t get angry, right?
Anger is bad.
Anger hurts people.
Anger must not be allowed to express itself, right?
The truth is, after many years of suppressing my anger, I’m finally learning to see it in a different light. I’m finally beginning to accept that it’s ok to be angry; that it’s not a sin to feel this emotion and to express it in a healthy way; that you can still connect to God when you’re angry, and that, with His help and guidance, this less-desirable feeling can lead to some very beneficial results.
While I’m still in the beginning stages of exploration, here is what I’ve discovered so far. To clarify, I’m not talking about rage or any actions that are taken as a result of the anger. I’m talking about the feeling itself — the feeling of being frustrated and upset.
What I’ve Learned
Number 1: God gets angry.
Throughout scripture, we see God getting angry over the way His people are treating Him and each other. He was angry about injustice and about people in positions of godly leadership taking advantage of those they were meant to serve.
Number 2: Anger isn’t a sin.
In the Garden of Eden, Cain grew angry when God favored his brother’s gift over his own. God didn’t chide Cain for being angry but issued a warning. “Sin is crouching at your door” (Genesis 4:7, NASB). It wasn’t the anger that was the problem, but the action Cain would take as a result of it.
In Ephesians 4:26, Paul exhorts the Christians to “be angry, and yet do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Here again, it isn’t the feeling that is deemed sinful, but rather the sinful actions that can easily flow forth from it.
Number 3: Anger tells us there’s a problem.
Oftentimes, we don’t immediately know why we’re angry. Though people get angry for many different reasons, it usually stems from some kind of hurtful problem. Maybe we’re overwhelmed and aren’t getting enough rest or enough help. Maybe somebody has been spreading lies about us, misjudging us, or treating us unfairly. Maybe we didn’t get something we wanted. Maybe we saw someone else being mistreated. There’s always a reason.
If we ignore the anger, we don’t get around to acknowledging the problem. If we don’t see the problem, it can’t be addressed and dealt with. And rather than disappear, the problem simmers and grows until it either enters our spiritual bloodstream as lethal bitterness, or else explodes in a disgusting mess upon innocent victims.
On the other hand, if we give in to a full expression of anger without identifying the source of it, we also lose out on the opportunity to address the real problem and spend all our energy in venting out against superficial annoyances.
Number 4: Anger can prompt us to take necessary action.
Sometimes anger serves as that final push we need to do something we’ve been avoiding, either because we didn’t feel strongly enough about it, or because we knew it would be hard or unpleasant. It may push us to have that conversation to address those problems, or to pull away from an unhealthy situation. We may finally take a stand for ourselves or someone else. Maybe there is an unhealthy desire or unrealistic expectation we need to let go of.
Every now and then, our anger is based on assumptions. Anger can drive us to confront the one we’re making those assumption about and discover whether or not there is a legitimate problem to be worked out.
Connecting with God in Our Anger
So how does God fit into all of this?
Well, since we know He gets angry, we can know He understands. Though our reasons may not be of the most righteous variety, we can at least be confident He is familiar with this emotion.
For this reason, and because we know He cares about us, we can seek God in the midst of our anger. “Help me, Lord! Help me understand why I’m feeling so angry right now! Help me know what to do about it!”
We can vent to Him. “I’m so frustrated! Why did they have to behave that way? Why did they have to say those things? How dare they treat me that way!”
We can even vent to God when our anger is directed at Him. “How could you let this happen?” I’m pretty sure God can handle our anger, and I don’t know of any time when He struck someone down for being angry with Him.
Through the Holy Spirit, God is more than happy to help us recognize and process the motivations of our heart. If those motives are not of Him, He gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) reveals the problem to us in a way that draws us to repentance.
If there is an appropriate action that needs to be taken, God gives us the strength and courage to follow through.
Anger doesn’t separate us from God. Instead, it can draw us to Him in an ever-increasing, ever-intimate way. It can help us recognize and work through problems with ourselves and those around us.
It isn’t a bad emotion.
It just is.
And sometimes, it even leads to good.
What Do You Think?
I know there is much more to anger than what I laid out here. In fact, one much more comprehensive source is the book, It’s Okay to be Angry by Gary J. Oliver and H. Norman Wright.
What are your thoughts about anger?
How do you deal with it and express it?
What are some of the effects you’ve seen and experienced from it?
Have you ever seen anger lead to something good?