Everyone struggles with anger at some level, at different points in their lives. Untended anger can destroy friendships and shatter families. Even though emotions can be a struggle, remember that God designed our brains to trigger emotions for a reason. Learning to handle those emotions in a godly way is the key to having healthy responses to emotional triggers. Even anger can serve as a positive motivation to take action against an injustice.
All emotions have a spectrum, and anger has a scale that runs from selfish anger to righteous anger. Thankfully, the Bible gives us many principles on how to handle our feelings of anger—no matter where they land on the emotional spectrum. (Also see: How can I control my hormonal emotions?)
Selfish anger is wrapped up in pride and satisfying selfish desires such as revenge (James 1:20). This kind of anger is sinful because it only seeks to serve self. Selfish anger wants to justify angry actions or words rather than taking responsibility for one's own behavior (Proverbs 29:11). Selfish anger looks for someone to blame rather than directing anger at the situation (Romans 3:13-14). Selfish anger is unproductive and twists God's purposes (1 Corinthians 10:31). Selfish anger lingers and can turn into irritability, bitterness, or depression if it isn't processed rightly (Ephesians 4:26-27).
Righteous anger, on the other side of the scale, is not sinful because it is motivated by a desire to right an injustice—to others, to yourself, to God. The Bible often calls this kind of anger "righteous indignation." We clearly see that God can be angry (Psalm 7:11; Mark 3:5). Believers are told that it’s OK to be angry but not to allow it to take control (Ephesians 4:26-27). Feelings of anger are not automatically wrong or sinful.
The Bible uses two Greek words in the New Testament which are translated as "anger." One means "passion, energy" and the other means "agitated, boiling." These are both descriptors of stored energy, itching to be released in some way. God designed anger to give us that energy to solve problems and to right wrongs.
The Bible shows us examples of people exercising righteous anger to get stuff done. King David's anger was kindled when Nathan the prophet told him a story about an injustice, which moved him to declare, "The man who has done this deserves to die!" (2 Samuel 12:5b). (Of course, there's a twist ending to that story, which you can find in 2 Samuel 12.)
Jesus expressed righteous anger over how some of the Jews had turned the temple in Jerusalem into a marketplace for profit. He threw over tables and dumped out their coins, rebuking them for defiling His Father's house (John 2:13-18).
What do these examples have in common? These instances of anger were not about defending "self" or pride but rather defending others or one of God's principles. THAT is righteous anger and fully acceptable.
The first step to overcoming selfish anger is recognizing that your anger is prideful, selfish, or motivated by the wrong things (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9). Second, confess that anger to God and to anyone who has been hurt by your angry words or actions. Don't shift blame and don't minimize the damage that has been done. Be honest and sincere.
If someone throws selfish anger your way, keep in mind that God is sovereign over all situations (Romans 8:28-29). Nothing happens that He doesn't cause or allow. So even through the bad encounters with angry people, be assured that God is good and faithful to redeem the bad for the good of His people (Genesis 50:20; Psalm 145:8, 9, 17).
Knowing in our hearts that God has a purpose in these things can help us in our responses to others' anger (James 1:2-4). Make room for God's wrath, and don't try to play God (Romans 12:19). Our God is righteous and just. Trust that He sees everything going down and will act justly (Genesis 18:25).
NO. Anger about injustice inflicted against yourself is 100% appropriate. Anger can be a warning flag, a signal that something is very wrong, an alert that our boundaries have been violated. Many victims of abuse, especially spiritual abuse, are gaslighted by their abusers, made to believe their anger is wrong or sinful. But listen—that is a LIE.
Abuse of any kind is never OK. God cares about every individual. Believers are supposed to care for one another but unfortunately that doesn't always happen—be it from neglect or ignorance of any abuse taking place. If no one stands up for us, sometimes we have to stand up for ourselves. Righteous anger can give us that burst of energy needed to take the first step away from the abuser.
Often, those who have experienced trauma don’t experience anger right away. They feel pain and/or shame in their woundedness, but as they process and work through the trauma, angry feelings begin to emerge. This is totally OK.
For a victim to heal and eventually find joy or forgiveness, they must first accept the trauma for what it was—an act of injustice against them. Experiencing anger over that personal injustice is natural and a part of the process of reaching spiritual and emotional health once again. This anger may last a long time because recovering from trauma and abuse is a long journey, and, friend, that's OK too.
The key is to keep working through that anger with the goal of accepting that the abuse was unjust and perhaps eventually coming to a place of forgiveness. God can and will help you. But again, there is no timeline on healing from such wounds. You're allowed to take as long as you need, and you are not required to continue a relationship with an abuser. Processing through anger is NOT sinful.
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." —Romans 12:21
One of the great examples of someone exchanging their anger for love is seen toward the end of Genesis in the story of Joseph. His brothers had mistreated him so horribly that Joseph's life became extremely unpleasant. But in the end, he kept his perspective that God would use all these things for good and was able to forgive his brothers, comfort them in the wake of their father's death, and speak kindly to them (Genesis 50:15-21).
Our actions flow from what's happening in our hearts. If we harbor bitterness or selfish anger, finding the ability to love will be nearly impossible. While anger is an automatic, natural reaction, love is a choice we must consciously make and act upon (Matthew 5:43-48; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). We can convert our angry feelings into love when we choose to change how we act toward a person.
1. Be honest and speak up. People cannot read minds. We can't assume anyone knows what we're feeling, why we feel that way, or that they'll understand our subtle hints. Tell the truth but do so in love. (See Ephesians 4:15, 25)
2. Speak sooner rather than later. Don't let your anger build up to nuclear proportions. Rather than dwelling on your anger, allow yourself to work through it. Untended anger will only lead to loss of self-control. (See Ephesians 4:26-27)
3. Focus your attack on the problem—not the person. Our goal should be reconciliation and forgiveness whenever possible, and that requires a merciful approach toward people. If you must direct malice toward something, let it be the situation, so you can avoid breaking down your relationship with the person further. (See Ephesians 4:29, 31; Proverbs 15:1)
4. Act. Don't react. Often our first impulsive reaction to anger is a sinful one. Take a moment to count to ten before giving a response. Calm your breathing. Consider a godly way to respond to your anger. Remind yourself that this angry energy should be used to solve the problem—not create a bigger one. (See Ephesians 4:31-32)
Having clear boundaries and communicating them is a preventative measure and can help you evaluate and process negative emotions. Consider what personal, spiritual, or emotional boundaries you need before anything happens. Then when anger flares, you can connect your feelings to how your boundaries have been affected. Making those connections can help you get a better sense of why you're experiencing certain emotions at certain times. (See 1 Corinthians 2:15-16; Matthew 10:16)
Exercising discernment sometimes reveals that a specific person is unsafe to be around and should be avoided at this time. You can still forgive them, but you may choose not to continue the relationship, and that's OK. (Also see: What does the Bible say about dealing with toxic people?
Take responsibility for your anger and act to solve your part of the problem (Romans 12:18). You can't control others, but you CAN work on controlling how you respond. Processing strong emotions isn't something that happens overnight. Give yourself (and others) patience, grace, mercy, and compassion. Ask God to help you overcome your anger toward the person and to focus on the problem instead. If automatic anger is a habit you've formed, do not despair; there's still hope. With the Holy Spirit, you can practice godly responses until they become new, healthier habits that glorify God.
Feelings of anger are not automatically sinful. Selfish anger is wrapped up in pride, thoughts of revenge, and is sinful because it seeks only to serve self. Righteous anger is not sinful because it's motivated by a desire to right an injustice—to others, to yourself, to God. Anger can serve as a positive motivation to take action against an injustice. Speak honestly in love, seek forgiveness, and focus on attacking the problem—not the person. Learning to control anger in a godly way is the key to having healthy responses to emotional triggers.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.