Where Does Anger Come From?

dark-heart-backgrounds-61361-wallpapers-hd-61364A screaming toddler in a shopping cart.  A seething teen punching a hole in the wall.  A stewing colleague turning a cold shoulder.  A begrudging neighbor planning the perfect revenge.  An embittered mother yelling at her children.  A disgusted spouse slamming the door on the way out . . . for the last time.

Anger, anger, everywhere.  We see it in our culture and media, in our workplaces and homes, and even in ourselves.  It is often overlooked or excused.  Sometimes it is encouraged and praised.

In contrast, Scripture tells us to get rid of it.  “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31).  But, to begin, where does anger come from?

Anger Begins in Our Hearts

The “blame game” is a game we all love to play.  It is our human nature to blame relationships or circumstances for our anger.  When we become angry, the blaming begins . . .

 It’s not my fault I’m angry.  If she hadn’t __________, then I wouldn’t be angry.  I’m angry because he __________.  I can’t help it that I’m angry; you know how hot-headed we __________ (insert nationality here) can be!  I’m angry because I don’t feel well . . . I’m under a lot of pressure . . . I’m just not feeling like myself today. 

Oh, yes you are!

Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.  All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man . . . For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.  The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good, and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil” (Mark 7:21, 12:34).

Jesus taught that sin originates in our hearts.  In our hearts is where sin (including anger and all its wicked associations) resides.  When we are hard-pressed, it comes gushing out like a filthy fountain!

We Become Angry When We Want Something Too Much

James 4:1-2 answers the question of what is going on in our hearts when we become angry:  “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

A “passion” or “desire” we have might be a good, lawful desire or it might be a sinful desire.  Either way, when a desire has taken root in our hearts and becomes the most important thing to us, it has become an idol—meaning it has become more important to us than honoring and obeying Christ with our responses.

Question:  How do you know when a desire has become an idol?

Answer:  You know that a desire has become an idol when you are willing to sin to get it or willing to sin if you don’t get it.  (Think about that for a minute!)

When you are angry, stop and ask yourself, “What is it that I want?  What is it that I desire so much right now that I am willing to respond with sinful anger?” 

Think of anger as your personal smoke detector.  A smoke detector identifies smoke and warns you that a fire is nearby.  Similarly, anger detects a desire that is dangerously burning within you. Your anger will tell you what your idol is!

Why is it Important to Know that Anger Begins in Our Hearts?

There are two important reasons to understand that anger begins in our hearts:

  1. This truth shows us what needs to change—WE do! It’s our hearts that need to change, not our circumstances or the people around us.  Stop the blame game!
  1. This truth shows us that we need God for change! We cannot change ourselves at the deepest level to glorify Him; we are dependent upon God Himself for that.  We will only overcome our anger—not mask it, but rather put it to death—by the gracious saving work of Christ and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.  More about that next time.

Previous:  The Hulk Isn’t the Only One: Are You Angry?   Next:  Overcoming Anger

(Thank you to Jim Newheiser of ibcd.org for his many biblical insights reflected in this post.  For his audio & notes, see: “Anger Mismanagement: Only Grace Transforms the Heart.”)

For additional anger resources: Resources for Your Walk

The Hulk Isn’t the Only One: Are You Angry, Too?

hulkMy son is hooked on the Marvel super-hero movies that have hit the theaters in the last few years.  Whenever a new one comes out, we go on a date, a “mommy date” to be exact.  A bucket of popcorn, peanut M&Ms, a Coke, my sixteen year old son, and a Marvel movie—I’m loving it!!  I’ll admit, I’m as hooked as he is.

The Hulk of the 21st century Marvel movies really puts the 1970s TV character of the same name to shame.  The special effects used to transform today’s Bruce Banner into the Hulk make the pasty green body-builder Hulk of my childhood days look ridiculous.  Regardless, the Hulk of yesteryear and today share the same plaguing problem—anger . . . always brewing, sometimes explosive.

Bruce hates his anger, fears its control, and is shameful of its destruction.  Though he tries to subdue it, he repeatedly fails.  Bruce personally feels unsafe in his own skin, and he knows he jeopardizes the safety of those he loves—and hates.  Anger is a burden he cannot shake.

The Hulk is not alone.  Anger is a universal problem.  It is a real, human condition experienced by every single person.  Strangely, we don’t like to call it anger.  Rather, we prefer to use sanitized words such as “frustrated,” “annoyed,” “irritated,” “offended,” and so on.  Call it whatever you like, but anger is anger, and like the Hulk, it can consume us and leave a path of destruction.

What is Anger?

According to the American Psychological Association, “Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”  In Uprooting Anger, Robert Jones describes anger as “. . . our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.”  He continues to explain, “Anger in Scripture conveys emotion, spanning the spectrum from red-hot rage to icy-blue rejection. But it always involves beliefs and motives, perceptions and desires.”  Simply put, someone does you wrong (whether real or perceived), and you have a mild to full-blown negative response toward that person which can run the gamut from a slight annoyance to an uncontrollable rage!  Are you angry?

How Else Can We Describe Anger?

  1. Anger is active. When we become angry, we have physical and verbal responses.  It can affect our heart rate, hormones, facial expressions, and body language.  Often these responses are not accompanied with self-control.  Who has not seen an irate toddler throw a fit rolling around on the floor?  Who has not heard the slammed door or seen the scowling face of a teenager?  Who has never witnessed a raised voice or violent act?  We see these types of scenarios numerous times in Scripture.  Even Moses had his moments!  “As soon as Moses came near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing, and Moses’ anger burned, and he threw the tables from his hands and shattered them” (Exodus 32:19).  How do you physically & verbally express your anger?
  1. Anger seems justified. We have an internal sense of justice that is put on high alert when we have been offended.  We desire to right the wrong that has been done to us, but often this morphs into revenge.  We want to get even, to punish the offender!  Knowing this is a strong temptation for us and that God is the ultimate avenger, Paul wrote in Romans 12:17,19, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone . . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God.”  Have you ever considered that your anger is revenge?
  1. Anger is not necessarily sinful.  God gets angry.  Psalm 7:11 shows that He is justly angered when His holiness is violated.  It reads, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.”  Jesus was also angry.  Not only did he display his indignation when he forcibly cleansed the temple, but Mark also records that he looked at the Pharisees with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart when He healed on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5).  Before you conveniently say, “See! Jesus was angry, so my anger is justified, too,” let me point out that righteous indignation is rare.  Just because Jesus, the perfect God-man could be angry without sin, does not mean that we have a handle on this!  Here are three helpful questions to help you determine if your anger is truly righteous and God-honoring (adapted from Uprooting Anger, Robert Jones).  Don’t answer these questions too quickly!
    1. Has a real offense taken place against God? (Or are you angry because you were offended?)
    2. Is your concern for God’s kingdom and concerns or your own? (At the cleansing of the temple, Jesus fulfilled Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for Your house consumes me.”)
    3. Is your anger righteously expressed in godly ways? (Galatians 6:1-2, Ephesians 4:32, etc.)
  1. Anger is dangerous. Anger is murderous by nature.  It wounds and kills.  Cain was angry with Abel, and killed him; Saul was angry with David, and sought to kill him.  Anger is not only revealed by murderous actions, but also by murderous words, for “with his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor” (Proverbs 11:9).  Anger destroys relationships and provides the devil an opportunity to cause division.  Ephesians 4:26-27 reminds us, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”  Tragically, anger also leads to other grievous sins and consequences.  Anger breeds deceit, adultery, murder, and idolatry, to name a few.  As it says in Proverbs 29:22, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.”  Have you recognized the dangers of your anger?
  1. Anger is contagious. Think of how one person’s anger affects a whole office, classroom, church, or family.  Like the old saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”  Isn’t that the truth!  In Proverbs 22:24-26 we are warned to beware the angry person and becoming like him: “Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.”  Has your anger bred the same in the people around you?
  1. Anger is deceptive. In Jeremiah 17:9-10, the Lord says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give each man according to his ways.”  The Lord knows and understands our struggle with anger, even if try to justify it.  We may try to deny our anger by calling it something else (frustrated, annoyed, etc.).  Or, we may try to blame our anger on something or someone else.  “This is just the way I am!”  “I can’t help it, I was raised this way!” Or, “Well, if she didn’t say or do such-and-such, then I wouldn’t be angry!”  All of these are examples of self-deceptive excuses that might be used to deny our responsibility to acknowledge and deal with our anger.  Are you denying your anger?

NEXT TIME:  Where Does Anger Come From?

(Thank you to Jim Newheiser of ibcd.org for his many biblical insights reflected in this post.  For his audio & notes, see: “Anger Mismanagement: Only Grace Transforms the Heart.”)

For additional anger resources: Resources for Your Walk