As Christians, we process grief, show love, understand compassion, and accept forgiveness. But when it comes to anger, we often reject it as not being useful or holy. There simply is no place for anger in the worldview of many Christians. We’re told to just “let it go,” “get over it,” or “count to ten.” In the church, anger is treated like a dirty little secret.
God gets angry. Why can’t we? We’re made in the image of God, and being truly human is to fully embrace who God made us to be. In Reclaiming Anger, David Dorn asserts that anger doesn’t have to be a forbidden, destructive emotion. Biblical anger serves a purpose. In this study you’ll discover what anger is, how God gets angry, when we need anger, and when we need to let it go.
Converge Bible Studies is a series of topical Bible studies. Each title in the series consists of four studies on a common topic or theme. Converge can be used by small groups, classes, or individuals. Primary Scripture passages from the Common English Bible are included for ease of study, as are questions designed to encourage both personal reflection and group conversation. The topics and Scriptures in Converge come together to transform readers’ relationships with others, themselves, and God.
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Converge Bible Studies Reclaiming Anger
By David Dorn
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
GOOD ANGER, BAD ANGER
EPHESIANS 4:26-27; MATTHEW 5:21-24; COLOSSIANS 3:5-11
26 Be angry without sinning. Don't let the sun set on your anger.
27 Don't provide an opportunity for the devil.
21 "You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don't commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, 'You idiot,' they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, 'You fool,' they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.
5 So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6 The wrath of God is coming upon disobedient people because of these things. 7 You used to live this way, when you were alive to these things. 8 But now set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. 9 Don't lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices 10 and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it. 11 In this image there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all things and in all people.
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
Awkward silence gained its name for a reason: It is awkward. Ask a Sunday school class a question, and you will experience this phenomenon. Inevitably, there is always one person who blurts forth one of these two answers, "Jesus" or "the Bible." These stand as the catch-all answers to the majority of Sunday school questions.
Shouldn't we ask questions that demand deeper answers?
Now questions can be uncomfortable, especially questions of the Bible. If one likes simple answers, then one needs never to engage any real Bible study. Questions of the Bible lead to messy answers and truths that express themselves in unexpected ways. Asking questions is not for the faint of heart.
Since I frequently read my Bible, I frequently find myself asking questions. When it comes to a topic such as anger in the Bible, one question repeatedly pops into mind: "Did somebody lie?"
Anger is mentioned explicitly in the Bible more than 200 times. This doesn't even account for the numerous instances where the protagonist of the particular story exhibits signs of anger without being labeled as such. Throughout the recorded uses of this emotion, it seems that opinions on anger vary from instance to instance. This begs deeper questions:
Why? Did the writers of the Bible disagree on this fundamental emotion? Did God's mind change while inspiring these authors?
Does anger possess different meanings both real and powerful and yet contradictory in nature?
Is it possible that anger in the Bible presents to us a paradox?
I believe that the latter questions are correct. The truth is messy.
WRATH OF GOD
The apostle Paul wrote a letter to the house church of a town called Colossae. In this letter to the Colossians, he warns Christians they need to rid "anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language" from their lives. The word Christian means "Christ follower." Christ followers do more than crowd into church buildings every Sunday morning; as Christ followers we represent Christ to the world. Scary? Absolutely. Fortunately, God is with us, meaning, we have help.
Now Paul tells the Colossians that anger, rage, malice, and so forth do not reflect Christ to the world. Ragamuffin Gospel author, Brennan Manning, said, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle." Manning poignantly gets at the heart of Paul's meaning here in Colossians 3. If we are the Jesus whom people see, then our goal should be nothing less than to be Christ to the world.
Paul goes on to say: "Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature, which is renewed in knowledge by conforming to the image of the one who created it." Stop doing what you used to do and reflect Jesus! Why? Because "the wrath of God is coming" (Colossians 3:6, 9-10).
Wait! What? We're not allowed to show anger, but God has wrath and God's wrath is on the way? This doesn't seem fair. We are to reflect God, yet God acts contrary to what we're told to do. Something doesn't add up.
Observe again the list Paul provides for us:
anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language.
Given the context of this list, none of these things are productive. Shalom is not constructed from these acts; rather, these acts contribute to the breakdown of peace, rightness, truth, and balance in our relationships. So when you are angry, do you mirror your Savior or do you reflect something less than Jesus?
In the ancient Near East, where Paul wrote this letter, anger wasn't thought of in the abstract. If one possessed anger, it was directed toward someone. How can one follow Jesus faithfully while maintaining a deep anger toward another person? God's anger is kindled when those who claim to be Jesus followers persist in being destructive. You cannot reflect the image of God well and tear people down simultaneously. Mirrors don't work when they are smeared with mud. Sin corrupts. God gets angry when sin corrupts those Christ died to redeem.
Jesus gave the best sermons. People remember what Jesus preached because he was poignant. You cannot read the words of Jesus without having those words speak to you. In Matthew 5, Jesus gives the most famous sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount. On that mount, a large crowd gathered as they eagerly waited to hear from this new teacher.
Then Jesus lowered the boom. "While murder is bad, being angry with someone is just as bad" (my paraphrase of verses 21-22). Last time I checked, pretty much everyone is going to hell by those standards. Thankfully Jesus didn't stop at just telling us our sin, but he went on to save us from it.
Now if Jesus is fully God and fully human, completely sinless, then what do we do with Mark 3:5? "Looking around at [the religious leaders] with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, [Jesus] said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.'" Jesus got angry with people. Either Jesus is contradicting himself, or there is something else going on in Matthew 5.
Have you ever watched Wheel of Fortune when there was just one key word missing? Just one word can unlock the whole puzzle. Just one word stands between walking away with nothing or with a trip to Hawaii. One word is important.
There is a missing key word to Matthew 5. Some translations of the Bible have it; others omit it. It's the word eike in the Greek. It means "without cause." "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister [without cause] will be in danger of judgment." One word keeps Jesus from contradicting himself. One word saves us from trouble every time someone steps on our feet, mistreats our children, abuses a friend, or causes suffering of the innocent. Jesus says unjust anger is not trivial to God, but he also says that anger must have a purpose. Jesus doesn't expect us to roll over when people break shalom with us. But he does expect us to have good cause for our anger.
Someone cut you off in traffic? Unless the driver almost killed someone in the process, screaming at him or her from behind the wheel isn't productive.
A girl walks into a room wearing the same thing you are? There is no cause to vent.
You didn't get invited to the party? That is not a good reason to talk trash about people behind their backs.
Someone else is dating your ex? Move on.
According to Jesus, anger has a standard. When you get angry, do you meet that standard or are you just contributing to the problem?
Anger must have a limited duration, or anger turns into a poison that taints everything else in your life.
I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in a little town called Waveland. If you're stuck on the geography, think Hurricane Katrina. Waveland unfortunately lived up to its name during that storm. Our house unwillingly took in eight feet of flood water, despite being one mile from the beach. For the storm, my family and I stayed at our church only a few minutes away in the next town. Although on higher ground, we didn't remain dry there either. Needless to say, I will not stay for another hurricane of apocalyptic proportions ever again.
On the day of the storm, once the flood waters receded, my father and I trekked back to Waveland. We waded through chest-deep water left in some spots in efforts to check the status of our home. The eight feet of water ruined everything on the first floor, a tree punctured the roof of my sister's room, and people already had looted through our yard. Still, we praised God for having a house to come home to, a luxury many didn't share.
The next morning, I woke up lying on a folding table at my church. We all slept on tables and pews to stay out of the odorous mud, our plague in the aftermath. My hope rested on this being a really bad dream. But the helicopter dropping off rescue personnel outside the church woke me up to the reality that life was now different. I already knew that I did not like my new life.
Hurricane Katrina hit one week into my sophomore year of college. By that time, I had made a great number of friends at the college ministry on campus. In one year, we all formed a tight bond as friends. So when my life fell apart and I dropped out of school for the semester, I looked to my friends for comfort, support, and help. I lived only 45 minutes from campus, so I didn't find it unreasonable to ask for help.
No one showed up. Surely, I could count on my best friend, the guy I did everything with, to come to my aid. So we scheduled for him to come over for a three-day weekend to help us pick through water-soaked family pictures. An hour before he was supposed to arrive, I got a phone call:
"Hey man, I can't come. My sister is about to have her baby any time, so I need to stay over here in case she goes into labor."
"OK," I said. "I understand." I hung up, disappointed. I was still alone.
Later that night, I texted him to check on his sister. He immediately called me.
"Man, tonight was so amazing! I went out with this girl, and it was awesome!"
"You blew me off for a date with some girl you'd just met?" I responded. I was angry. I had just cause to be angry. My best friend had lied and turned his back on me. Then he had the audacity to call and tell me about how his date went!
"Don't turn this on me," he said, feigning innocence.
I proceeded to tell him exactly what he had done, how he had lied, how I had been counting on his help, and how he had blown me off. We abruptly got off the phone. That was the last time I talked to him for three months.
I started back to school that spring, but I was different. Katrina had changed me in many ways, but my anger had changed me more. I no longer was the nice guy people had remembered. I was angry. During those months, I dealt with my anger toward God; or rather, God dealt with me over my "righteous" anger. Despite my inner healing with God, everyone could see that I was not fine. I saw my friend around school every day, but we never spoke. People knew why, because I told them. When I needed strength, I just thought about the betrayal of my friend; it always gave me the shot of adrenaline to get through the day. I had every right to be angry with him. My anger was just, but it lacked something important.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, "Be angry without sinning. Don't let the sun set on your anger. Don't provide an opportunity for the devil" (verses 26-27). My anger wasn't sinful, yet the lack of resolve to my anger was. Anger needs to bring back shalom. Our friendship was broken and needed healing. My anger highlighted the problem; it made both parties aware there was an issue needing to be resolved. Yet no resolution or restoration came. Months later, I remained angry.
Paul speaks truth when he says that unresolved anger provides "an opportunity for the devil." My friend was running the college ministry by this point; and I became the thorn in his side, undermining his leadership. Our other friends tried not to take sides in the midst of our dispute, yet our blessed little group began to break down like in the end of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Anger without duration poisons everything and everyone around you. And anger without forgiveness cheapens the usefulness of the anger.
Eventually, tension between me, my friend, and everyone else around us grew to a point where something had to be said. So my friend and I had it out. He apologized; I forgave him. I apologized for not resolving this sooner; he forgave me.
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 5 that if someone has something against you, you are to quickly go and make things right. Conversely, in Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus tells us to forgive people and then God will forgive us. The condition of God's unending forgiveness is that we forgive others just as liberally.
Only then can shalom be restored.
Anger is a paradox. It exists both as good and as bad. It both constructs and destructs. It restores shalom and breaks shalom. It just depends on what you do with it.
Anger is tricky.
1. How can we "be angry without sinning" (Ephesians 4:26)? When does anger become sin?
2. How does anger provide "an opportunity for the devil" (Ephesians 4:27)?
3. Is Jesus equating anger with murder (Matthew 5:21-22)? What are some potential problems that could arise from misinterpreting or misapplying these verses?
4. Whose anger is Matthew 5:23 referring to? Why is this significant?
5. What does Matthew 5:24 tell us about how God values people's resolving the anger between themselves?
6. What is the wrath of God (Colossians 3:6)? Who experiences it? How can we avoid it?
7. What is the difference between anger and rage (Colossians 3:8)? How do we set these things aside?
8. What does it mean to put on the new nature (Colossians 3:10)?
9. What purpose does anger serve? How did Jesus use anger in a positive way? How can we?
10. Why is it important for anger to have a limited duration? How do we know how long that should be?CHAPTER 2
UNDERSTANDING THE PURPOSE OF ANGER
GENESIS 18:22-33; MATTHEW 21:12-14; ISAIAH 12:1-2
22 The men turned away and walked toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing in front of the Lord. 23 Abraham approached and said, "Will you really sweep away the innocent with the guilty? 24 What if there are fifty innocent people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not save the place for the sake of the fifty innocent people in it? 25 It's not like you to do this, killing the innocent with the guilty as if there were no difference. It's not like you! Will the judge of all the earth not act justly?"
26 The Lord said, "If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will save it because of them."
27 Abraham responded, "Since I've already decided to speak with my Lord, even though I'm just soil and ash, 28 what if there are five fewer innocent people than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city over just five?"
The Lord said, "If I find forty-five there, I won't destroy it."
29 Once again Abraham spoke, "What if forty are there?"
The Lord said, "For the sake of forty, I will do nothing."
30 He said, "Don't be angry with me, my Lord, but let me speak. What if thirty are there?"
The LORD said, "I won't do it if I find thirty there."
31 Abraham said, "Since I've already decided to speak with my Lord, what if twenty are there?"
The Lord said, "I won't do it, for the sake of twenty."
32 Abraham said, "Don't be angry with me, my Lord, but let me speak just once more. What if there are ten?"
And the LORD said, "I will not destroy it because of those ten." 33 When the Lord finished speaking with Abraham, he left; but Abraham stayed there in that place.
12 Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, "It's written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you've made it a hideout for crooks."
14 People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them.
1 You will say on that day:
"I thank you, Lord.
Though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away and you comforted me.
2 God is indeed my salvation;
I will trust and won't be afraid.
Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my shield;
he has become my salvation."
INSIGHT AND IDEAS
Just because God becomes angry doesn't mean that God is an angry God.
I grew up in a Christian household. I realize now how fortunate I was for that privilege. We went to church almost every Sunday. My parents taught Sunday school and helped lead both the children's choir and Boy Scouts. They also made sure that I received a Christian education through twelfth grade. Still, I always feared God.
Excerpted from Converge Bible Studies Reclaiming Anger by David Dorn. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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