How Can a Christian Maturely Express Anger?
By Dr. Nancy Moelk
How do I handle angry feelings in life? Are they always a sin? Are they ever helpful or effective? What if I feel guilty or distressed when I express any anger? Or what if I “loose it” and go into rages that are destructive to myself and those around me? How about if I don’t seem to have any anger and can’t even identify any times when I express it? These are some of the questions we want to answer here.
First, if we believe in God and that we are made in His image, we know He lives in us and we have access to His nature. So what kind of anger does God portray? What kinds of things made God angry in the Old Testament? And Jesus in the New Testament. (This does not negate His mercy and forgiveness but, instead, accentuates forgiveness and resolution as a process and not a mental gym trick). Here is a short list:
1. When those who were supposed to love Him, betrayed Him and forgot Him.
2. When He offered Himself in relationship and was rejected.
3. When people pretended to be for Him but were only interested in using Him.
4. When religious people acted like the most important thing in life was image and performance while neglecting a real heart connection and truth in relationship.
5. When people pretended to be serving others but were in fact using them and manipulating them.
Even though God does forgive those who want to be reconciled to Him, He still showed us a model of having a reaction to suffering loss and injury in relationship where He made Himself vulnerable. He hoped for connection and fellowship and instead was rejected and abused. Jesus suffered as part of being human and, at times, He was angry. We need to remember He was fully God and fully man and He is not asking us to no longer be human!
Let’s go through some of the different scenarios of anger or lack of anger and try to move forward in a mature expression and resolution of it. It is a process to grow up and learning to mature in our expression of anger is just another skill we must practice and perfect.
What if you don’t seem to have any anger? Well, since we can’t find any culture or humans on the planet who don’t recognize anger, then you will want to open yourself to the possibility that you are pushing your anger away and it is affecting you in hidden ways such as physical illness, bitterness, resentment, depression or even a negative world view. A very cold person who is rather withdrawn is, in truth, a very angry person! Over the years, I have seen some people healed of physical problems by simply allowing the anger that they carry in their body to have an emotional expression (that doesn’t do injury to themselves or others) and resolution instead of keeping it stored in their bodies.
If this is our problem, we humble ourselves to be teachable and open to facing the truth of what is inside of us instead of pretending to be something we are not. Wearing a mask that disguises our true emotions may work around people but God knows what is going on deep inside of us—even if we don’t. God loves us and God loves truth. He sees the real things inside of us. He sees the beauty of us as His creation and beloved one and He focuses on all that is good. When He looks at anything unhealthy or harmful in us, it looks like what we find in baby diapers when the child needs a diaper change. I had four children and changed thousands of diapers—never once did I confuse the precious child with what was in the diaper!
I have ministered to people at times who were so lacking in the establishment of themselves as a human being and the “rights” thereof, that they truly believed it was hopeless for them to express any of their feelings or preferences. The view of self they carried was as a supporting cast member in the life drama of someone else. This is out of God’s divine order and not pleasing to Him. He enjoys our humanity and our ability to make choices and express ourselves. He enjoyed watching Adam name the animals, He enjoyed David’s fiery heart full of passion (see the Psalms). He is not asking us to forfeit authenticity for some restrained pretense of what we see as a “holy life”. He wants you to be fully who you are and to come into union with who He fully is. You will be transformed, of course, but this results from your becoming totally honest with Him and allowing Him to touch every area of your soul.
What if you feel your anger but then are ashamed of it and have guilt about any expression of it? Some of us were raised to believe that any expression of anger is sinful—that keeps us stuck with no way of getting rid of anger. Imagining how we “should” be doesn’t automatically create that scenario in us. Resolving anger is a process that begins with facing we are hurt or unhappy and therefore angry about it. If you were God, would you rather someone be honest with you about their unpleasant feelings or would you rather them be fake and phony around you, pretending everything is “OK”? I think the verse, “Peace, peace, where there is no peace” would describe that.
If this is our situation, then let’s try a practical solution. The goal is to resolve our anger. It looks like one part of us is angry, but another part is not comfortable with having anger. We are at war with ourselves—we have a divided mind and heart. Each part must be willing to consider the perspective of the other side. Maybe we don’t think we have the right to object and be unhappy with others or our situation because we may lose love and approval. Or we are afraid our anger will cause everyone to abandon or reject us. These are frightening prospects and must be properly heard and addressed. Finding security in God’s love and seeing ourselves as loved by Him no matter how we behave can calm these fears. On the other hand, any life losses create grief in us and resolving grief must always involve a facing of hurts which will lead us through a brief time of being angry before moving on to resolution and forgiveness.
We need to allow the angry part of us to have its say without judging or condemning ourselves for it. Once that part of us is heard, we can begin to grieve the loss and allow the provision of Christ which is already within you to flood that needy area.. Allowing ourselves to be angry about a loss moves us towards resolution and forgiveness. Trying to just not be angry because that is not “holy” will simply keep us stuck longer and at an impasse with ourselves. Loving and accepting ourselves right where we are opens the door for change in our lives—that is why God decided to love us with no conditions. It makes us safe enough to consider trying another way.
What if you are often angry and even destructive in your expression of it? People who are angry most of the time generally see the people and circumstances of their life as the source of their anger. They believe that if other people behaved differently or that if their life situation could just change, they would be happy and their anger would resolve itself. Raging about this and that, they beat on their environment and insist that everyone and everything owes them a debt and just won’t pay it. Because we aren’t in charge of everyone and everything, this can keep us stuck in anger forever. Studies have proven that simply raging and venting doesn’t resolve anger but makes us even angrier. Identifying the real source of our anger, which is often fear and wounding will bring us into a new level of truth about ourselves and our lives. From the vantage point of being honest about where our hearts are at and looking for a change in ourselves, we can do something about our unhappiness instead of waiting for a change in the outside environment to be the solution (which is probably not going to happen, anyway).
For someone who can’t seem to control their anger, recognizing that the real problem is inside rather than the fault of others or life situations is a first step towards resolution. The first stage of grief is coming out of denial about a loss. Seeing past the present-day circumstances and identifying themes of hurts and losses will lead us to look at our history and how we may be repeating dramas.
What if you are depressed, anxious or have an extremely negative world view? This can be anger turned inward. One thing we do, if we feel we are not allowed to be angry, is to aim it at ourselves. I have worked with people who were very depressed or having anxiety attacks. One thing that was characteristic of most of them was that they never seemed to have bouts of simple, genuine anger at life events! Their reaction to losses was minimal as far as any overt expression was concerned. But on deeper inspection, they had hidden their anger from themselves and now the focus of all their attention was on their “condition” of depression or anxiety. Once we determined they were playing a little game of distraction with themselves to avoid admitting anger, they began to give themselves permission to be angry and gradually their depression and anxiety went away.
These scenarios are general, and each person’s resolution of anger and grieving process will look a bit different. Just like a child learning to walk, we must practice and master the skill of expressing our anger in a mature and effective way that leads to full resolution. Years ago, I read a book called How to Really Love Your Teenager by Dr. Ross Campbell. In it he had what was called an “anger ladder” which described ways of expressing anger from the very worst to the very best. Ironically, the very bottom of the list, below shouting and breaking things, was being passive about anger. That is where you pretend you are not angry but take it out in covert ways. Lying about our anger makes sure that the “sun goes down on it” and that we can never get it resolved.
However, you respond to life losses and however you express or don’t express your anger, there is always room to grow and develop and be healthier. Instead of locking ourselves into a static picture of self with unrealistic expectations, we will do better to follow God’s lead. He takes people as they are, loves them in that place and then sets about teaching and guiding them into a full development of all that is good about them and a gradual adjustment to unhealthy perspectives and behaviors that block them from the very best they can be. God’s positive and practical approach to us, filled with compassion and patience, is a good role model for us in how we speak to ourselves and how we treat ourselves.
Let’s be deliberate about our status as “little children” who get to make mistakes, not know everything, and need help from our parent on a regular basis”. From this attitude, we will find ourselves set up for success in receiving abundant help and kindness from our Father in Heaven.
 For a fuller treatment of God’s anger as demonstrated in the grieving process, see Good Grief: Revised, Updated and Expanded by Nancy Moelk  See Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11 as well as Ezekiel 13:10.  See James 1:7-8 concerning the problem of being double minded and how that leaves us unstable.  For an excellent exercise on receiving God’s love and approval for you, go to Love and Approval of God by Richard Kinney  This is part of “confession” and when done without injuring ourselves and others is part of the road to true “holiness”.  An exercise to appropriate the presence of Christ for each and every hurt can be found in the Gratitude and Stepping into Freedom from Pain post on our website.  For a fuller treatment of this, see the booklet Unshackled From Your Past in the Booklet section of our website.  See the booklet by Nancy Moelk Anxiety Booklet at firehouseministries.com.  Click here for a link to Anger Ladder Dr. Ross Campbell also wrote a book How to Really Love Your Angry Teen and How to Really Love Your Angry Child.  Ephesians 4:26.