One of my absolute loudest emotions has always been anger. I can remember, as a kid, running down my neighbor's driveway at my brother and yelling “I hate you” for the mean thing he had done to me. In trauma, hurt, or stress, people often have a reaction that looks like freeze, flight, or fight. My reaction is most often fight. My sin nature doesn’t want to withdraw from an argument. This has been true of me for so long, that the only thing I can remember being told to be when I grew up was a lawyer.
Needless to say, I never became a lawyer. Once becoming a Christian, as I grew in my understanding of God and His grace, I learned that confrontation is a way that I sought to both connect with others and test and approve of my thoughts and feelings. Anger, although my loudest emotion, is not my only emotion. And interestingly enough, I learned that most times I’m feeling angry or frustrated, it’s not only because I’m angry—it’s because I’m scared, or I feel stuck.
Because anger is an emotion, it will come across and look different within each person's own story and personality. In some, anger is masked by humor, sarcasm, or resentment, while others seethe silently, withdraw, and become apathetic. Regardless of which way you tend to express anger, one thing is
certain: we all experience the emotion of anger in our life. The question is, what are we going to do about it? How does the gospel of grace shape our anger?
God is not apathetic, quick to confrontation, or resentful. His anger is purely righteous—it comes out of a heart of love and justice, not selfishness or hurt. When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying over the agony of death, He knew He’d be put through, He did not freeze, fight, or flee. As the
guards came to approach Him, Peter drew his sword to fight and harm, but Jesus remained calm, diffused the situation, and willingly let them take Him (John 18:3-11). This was not to His own benefit, but to ours.
Just hours later, He is stripped naked, mocked, and spit on, He does not get defensive and hurl insults at the guards attacking Him. He does not back down on His identity and what He came to do (Matt. 27:11-4, 27-32). He is calm, collected, and even gracious as He hangs on the cross and asks God to forgive
those who have hurt Him in their ignorance (Lk. 23:34).
We can often tell when those around us are angry. Maybe the vein on their forehead starts popping, or their fists start to clench, or their faces turn red. But when we look at God’s Word, the picture that is painted is not a popping vein on a forehead. It’s a picture of our Father, knowing our sin, and sending Jesus to take the anger and wrath that awaits us. Rather than leaving us to figure out our own anger problem, God sends His Son to absorb our punishment. And just to be clear, this is not a worldly kind of anger that unleashes at the slightest remark. God’s anger is slow and pure. It is not tainted by selfishness but is fueled by sin and injustice. The slightest prick does not unleash the wrath of God. Instead, His mercy is abounding—it’s just waiting to pour over us. As Dane Ortlund says in his book Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers: “He doesn’t handle us roughly. He doesn’t scowl and scold. He doesn’t lash out, the way many of our parents did. And all this restraint on his part is not because he has a diluted view of our sinfulness. He knows our sinfulness far more deeply than we do. Indeed, we are aware of just the tip of the iceberg of our depravity, even in our most searching moments of self-knowledge. His restraint simply flows from his tender heart for his people.”
“Look to Christ. He deals gently with you. It’s the only way he knows how to be. He is the High Priest to end all high priests. As long as you fix your attention on your sin, you will fail to see how you can be safe.
But if you look to this high priest, you will fail to see how you can be in danger. Looking inside, ourselves, we can anticipate only harshness from heaven. Looking out to Christ, we can anticipate only gentleness”
As is the case with all our emotions—they are not inherently bad. It’s our sin and selfishness that twist them. This is why Ephesians 4:26-27 says: “Be angry and do not sin."
In Christ, anger becomes a catalyst that pushes us towards Him and His heart, not inwards towards self-reliance and pity. My own anger tends to be kindled in two ways: perceived hurt and injustice, or frustration that comes from a heart that’s unable to change or achieve something. In my sin, I believe
that God is absent. That He doesn’t care about the hurt that was caused, the strife that’s endured, or the work that’s poured out. Instead, I believe that He can walk away, and my pain doesn’t affect Him. This is a result of my own distorted belief in who God is, and my inability or unwillingness to take my pain to God. When I choose to live in this reality, my anger is only fueled by my own self-reliance.
Unlike me, anger is not God’s strongest or loudest emotion. He is not waiting at the door to pounce. Christ is patient, humble, and kind. Sarcasm, subtle jabs, and unleashed fury isn’t waiting for those of us in Christ. He is gentle and lowly at heart (Matt. 11:29). And what is even more amazing, is that God—being rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love—sent Jesus to transform our own emotions of anger, from ones of harshness to ones of gentleness (Ps. 145:8-9). All we have to do is come to Him and believe; to lay our burdens at His feet, to run to Him in our pain, and to trust Him in our injustice. This is how we go from sinful anger to being angry without sinning. We allow the very Word of God to shape our emotions, which in turn shapes our actions. In humble, faithful, steps of obedience, we move away from anger-fueled self-reliance, and towards Christ, who will never leave us nor forsake us. Towards Christ, who is patient in our impatience, gentle in our harshness, and loving in our disgust. He is forgiving in our unforgiveness, and it is His forgiveness of us that fuels our ability to be angry, and not sin.