What Would Jesus Do? This was an iconic phrase we millennial church kids grew up around. I think I even had the bracelet. A constant reminder to be holy, act like Jesus, not punch your sister, and never cuss. So what about when Jesus makes a whip out of cords to drive the Pharisees out of the temple, leaving the men selling the sacrifice animals so afraid that they don’t even escape with their money?
Somehow no one ever brought up that this is exactly what Jesus would do, because it’s what he did. (John 2:15)
Growing up Christian I learned to never be angry. Jesus got angry that one time, but he was holy and only he can do that without sinning. But me and you? Stick to joy, peace, patience, and a little sadness if you’re repenting. Other emotions are a no-go.
I remember trying to picture Jesus as a kid, looking down at my bracelet and wondering what he would do or feel if he were in my situation. I imagined a very stoic person, removed and aloof. He never felt hurt, never got offended, and never lost his temper. So when I lost my temper because the kid on my 6th grade wrestling team called my mom a whore and said I was her bastard son, I believed I had sinned.
Anger is one of the greatest gifts God has given us as human beings, and when we shut down or repress it, we dull the fire inside of us until we practically go dark.
In preschool, we learn about the four basic emotions: Mad, Sad, Glad, Afraid. These are the four foundations that being human is built upon. Every other emotion is to some degree contained within these (just ask the makers of the movie Inside Out if you need a little deeper explanation on this one). Shutting off any one of these core emotions makes you destabilize and dissociate. Shut down two or more of them and you effectively cease to be a person.
Sunday school on up teaches us to forgive like Jesus, but no one teaches us to be mad like Jesus. If Jesus can build a whip, scream at a bunch of religious leaders in their own temple, and flip over their tables in anger, does it really make sense for us to try to live like we don’t feel it?
Angry Christians are Good Christians
The Bible tells us “in your anger do not sin.” It says “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (Eph 4:26) It never says “do not be angry.” That’s because anger is a gift that God knit into you in your mother’s womb.
God makes it clear that to let your anger simmer into bitterness is not healthy. Just like any other emotion, we can choose to take our emotion to a sinful place while we are “in” that emotion. In our fear, we can choose inaction that harms ourself or others. In our happiness, we can choose escapism that voids us of empathy. In our sadness, we can choose self pity that traps us in self destruction.
Our emotions are a gateway to sin and destruction, or a gateway to our destiny; it all comes down to which path we choose.
As human beings, and especially as Christian human beings, we are made for greatness. We each have a tremendous destiny and are called to live a victorious, empowered, fulfilled life. Our emotions are the fuel that creates that life, and anger is the most combustible fuel we have. Like the Incredible Hulk, our anger gives us strength that we could never access without it.
What Anger Gives You and How to Use It
Ever notice how angry you get when you stub your toe? Even Jesus got angry when he hit his thumb with a hammer, and there’s a reason for that. Jesus was human, and as human beings, anger has been given to us as a first indicator that something is hurt.
Anger is like an alarm that goes off when something isn’t quite right. Sometimes even before we feel pain, we feel anger. If you feel angry about a situation, odds are it is because something within your being has been disturbed.
I do want to clarify that this doesn’t make you right. Anger is a reaction, but sometimes it is reacting on false pretenses. Anger is as automatic a response to disturbance of the self as squinting is to looking into a bright light. Sometimes we react in anger to a person challenging our political views, because we have tied our identity to that view. This doesn’t make our view right, and it doesn’t make the person challenging it an attacker. It simply means that we have created an emotional tie to that view, and that tie has been disturbed.
So anger teaches us when we are in pain, it shows us when our identity or emotional well being is challenged, and it is our first reaction to show us how we feel. But how do we respond to our anger? What do we do with it?
One big reason the Bible says not to let the sun go down on your anger is because anger is meant to move, not to rest. Anger has to move from initial reaction into something more stable, and how we move with our anger determines the fruit of that anger.
So maybe you’re angry at your life partner for not listening to you when you needed a shoulder to cry on today. Feeling that anger tells you something is wrong. Allowing that anger to move into bitterness towards your partner is sin, but following your anger in self reflection until it shows you the root of why you became angry will lead to healing.
Angry at your boss for passing you up on a promotion? Moving that anger toward hatred of your boss or of yourself for not impressing your boss will lead to sin and destruction (of both yourself and your relationship with your boss). Letting your anger fuel a drive to pursue self growth so you never get passed up for a promotion again will lead to realizing more of your destiny.
When we embrace our anger without sin we become fully human. We have the fuel to discover truth, we have the drive to fight for a better life, we have the power to change our circumstances. Throw away and repent of the lie that says you have to be nice all the time, that your anger is somehow sinful, and that you should disconnect from your God given emotions.
God has given you the gift of anger, like a blazing fire within your soul. Yes, that fire can destroy, but it can also bring great life. Stop trying to put out the fire God gave you, and start using it to be the light of the world.