Jeff and Marie have been married for almost four years. Jeff is a police officer in a large city. Marie is a stay-at-home mom with their two small children. Both Jeff and Marie profess to know Jesus Christ and are very active in their church. By all external appearances they seem very happy, close, and able to handle life’s problems with great ease. At home things do not look so ideal. Jeff has come to believe, because of his stressful job as a police officer, that he deserves peace and quiet at home. His perfect evening is sitting alone in the living room in his favorite chair with no distractions. He likes to review the day in his mind, check his email, Facebook, and headline news. If anything stands in the way of his quiet, relaxing time, he simply explodes. Anything that happens he blames on his wife Marie. He shouts at her and accuses her of being selfish, and not thinking about his need for relaxation. Sinful anger has become Jeff’s response to a perceived wrong against him. His anger is evident.
Marie on the other hand is the more quiet type. She has never considered herself to be an angry person. Over the last few years, she has generally complied with Jeff’s wishes, and does what she can to keep the kids quiet and the house free of distractions when Jeff arrives home. Lately however, Marie has more and more struggled to keep up with the kids, household duties, and relationships with the ladies from church. She too is feeling a need to relax. Every evening she watches as Jeff gets what he wants, while she never seems to find time to unwind. She would never scream at Jeff or even verbally cross him; however, she is finding it hard to talk to him, turning instead to other relationships that seem easier to maintain. When he walks into a room her quick response is to leave the room and avoid him. Everything he does is becoming an irritation to her. She does not like living this way, but until he changes, she sees no hope of a bright future.
What is Anger?
Certain types of anger are easily recognized; we know them when we see them. Jeff’s anger is this way. Marie’s anger is much more subtle. If anger appears differently, then how do we know when it is present in our lives?
Robert D. Jones gives us a good working definition of anger in his book, Uprooting Anger. He says, “Our anger is our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.” If anger is a response to a negative moral judgment, then our personal value system is involved. If we believe that someone has wronged us by treating us in a way that we think is evil, we often respond in anger. There may be an active response, such as an outburst of anger, or perhaps a cold shoulder, or numerous other responses. So “anger arises from our value system. It expresses our beliefs and motives.”
In Jeff’s world, he values quiet down-time after work. He also believes that Marie, if she loves him, will value this as much as he does. When things go wrong, Jeff makes a moral judgment against Marie, thinking, “How can she be so insensitive to my needs? She must be blind and care nothing about me or my work.” Making this moral judgment against his perceived evil, he then explodes. Marie does much the same thing. She watches as Jeff demands his quiet time after work and begins to lust after the same thing. Her own value system kicks into gear, and she too believes herself deserving of what he is getting. For Marie though, there is no one to help her obtain what she wants. Her mind goes to Jeff. She makes a moral judgment against him. “Can’t he see that I work hard too? Why would he not care enough for me to give me what I need?” This to her is an injustice and evil. Making a moral judgment, Marie clams up and begins to resent Jeff and pull away from him.
Does All Anger Look the Same?
Anger originates in the mind, but what comes out is often unique depending on the person. In Ephesians 4:31 we find a list of sinful responses that spring from anger. In the list we see the words wrath, anger, and bitterness. Each of these are forms of anger that may show themselves very differently. The word for wrath here indicates a very outward, explosive type of anger. The word for anger indicates a more subtle “slow burn,” meaning it is not an explosive anger, but an inward anger that builds with each new evaluation of a wrong done. Bitterness is a more long-term response to unresolved anger, but it is anger nonetheless. How sinful anger shows itself is not as important as recognizing that it is a sinful response flowing from the heart. Once discovered, we can have great hope! Why? Because the Bible has solutions to sinful anger!
The Solution to Anger
The most important solution to sinful anger is to first of all recognize that we are all prone to it and we need outside help to put it away. Our sinful anger can be so dominating that it takes the very power of God working in us to put it down. In short, we need Christ. Jesus Christ came to live the perfect, sin-free life that we could never live. He did this so that He could be our substitute in dying for our sin, and so that we could receive His righteous perfection before God as a free gift. This does not mean that we begin living sin-free, but it does mean that He took what we deserve because of our sin, and He gives us an imputed perfection before God. When we trust in Christ as our Savior, our substitute, we are given His Spirit who begins to work in us. His work gives us the power to obey. With this power we can begin to put off sinful anger and replace it with thoughts and actions that please God.
We can begin putting off anger by first repenting of it and truly believing that God can change our heart. We do this by understanding that our anger is an offense to God, and agreeing with Him that it is a wrong response to our circumstances. Next we need to believe that God can and will change our hearts – from sinful anger, to thoughts and actions that are pleasing to Him. God has told us in Romans 8:29 that He is conforming us into the image of His Son. This “conforming” includes putting off sinful anger. God changes our hearts when He saves us, and He goes on changing them throughout our Christian walk. It is important, as we work through putting off sinful habits, that we truly believe and rely upon God’s power in us for success. Along with this change in thinking, we should begin to deal with the behavior itself.
It is important when we see sin in our lives that we find out what should replace it biblically. In Ephesians chapter 4 we saw that wrath, anger, and bitterness – among other things – should be put away from us. In the next verse God shows us what should replace these sinful responses. Verse 32 shows us that instead of responding in anger, we can respond biblically: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
The reason for putting off anger and replacing it with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness is found in the last phrase, “as God in Christ forgave you.” If anyone has a right to be angry with people, it is God. We have all sinned terribly against God, even as Christians. Yet by His grace He has chosen to forgive us and treat us kindly. If He has done that for us, who are we to not treat others in the same way? We must rightly evaluate our judgments. Our responses to others should be based on how God treats us, not simply on what we think we deserve from others. When others treat us badly or sin against us, we can remind ourselves that God has not treated us as we deserve. Instead, He has chosen to forgive and love us. Our response should be no less.