When I got honest with God about the anger I felt toward him, I experienced release, comfort, and healing. It didn’t make sense. I was afraid I’d experience something vastly different. Feeling angry with God felt wrong. I believed I must be bad because anger was there. Shame showed up as my body tightened and I resisted doing the very thing I believed I needed to do. Tell God what I really thought.
Deep breaths. Would God be mad that I was angry? What would happen if I told him the truth? I feared these answers for so long that I hid the truth from him and myself.
The day I finally revealed what welled up inside, I had been writing in my journals about our time at the ranch, where we fostered and had up to 12 kids. I journaled about the pain and hurt I experienced on many levels. A deeper pain remained. I didn’t want to go near it. I felt abandoned by God. Betrayed. It seemed he asked me to do something impossibly hard and then left me alone to fend for myself. Of course, that’s not the full picture of truth. My mind was trying to make sense of it all through pain, hurt, and confusion.
Finally, words of anger and hurt came out in the pages of my journal. They reflected the truth of what was already in my heart. Getting honest with God about what he already knew helped me experience a scary kind of vulnerability that tested underlying fears about what God would do if I did something wrong.
God didn’t strike me. Instead, a weight of fear lifted, and I experienced God’s love.
What We Believe about God and Our Emotions
Fearing God’s retribution is something far too many of us experience, never knowing the beautiful life he died to give. What we believe about God and our emotions has a lot to do with how we experience God in our emotions. We miss connection with God by suppressing the truth of what we feel.
Somehow, many of us believe that because God is the source of love, we should only feel emotions that feel good. We label emotions as positive or negative. Emotions like fear and anger we define as sinful. That’s not the full picture of truth either. God is the creator, giver, and source of emotions, and he holds them all in perfect balance as he loves us.
Throughout Scripture, we see God exhibiting various emotions, including anger. His anger points to injustices, oppression, and the rebellious acts of people putting themselves in a god-like position in their lives and the lives of others. Anger has a reason. Though anger may lead to destruction, its purpose is designed for good.
What We Believe about Anger in Scripture
Scripture is rich with meaning. Our English translations of Greek and Hebrew words struggle to adequately capture the depth and complexity of the author’s original intent. It’s one reason I love to read different versions and use bible study tools. These resources help us explore a deeper understanding of verses, chapters, and the whole of Scripture.
If you search for verses with anger, you’ll find Proverbs 14:29, Psalm 37:8, Proverbs 15:1, James 1:19-20, Ephesians 4:26, Ecclesiastes 7:9, Proverbs 16:32, and many more depending on which Bible version you read. A quick reading of each verse out of context can lead us to believe that anger equals something that should not happen. I’ve read these verses through the filter of my belief that anger must be sinful. I heard, “Do not get angry. Do not ever express anger. If you get angry, God will be angry with you. You will feel horrible if God is mad at you.”
My interpretation took God’s Word and altered the meaning to fit my fears. I was so afraid of getting things wrong, believing I must always be bad. I wasn’t reading these passages through a filter that experiences more of God’s love. I didn’t see a theme of meaning throughout God’s Word that helped me experience peace, joy, and freedom as a believer when it came to dealing with anger. As a result, I turned inward and chose self-will that denied anger and tried to act right.
Acting right without acknowledging what’s real doesn’t lead to rest in Christ.
What Happens When We Do Not Express Righteous Anger
Emotions are designed to move us toward action. When we experience injustice, it is reasonable to be angry. When we believe we can never be angry, or we do not know how to express anger in healthy ways, unexpressed righteous anger is denied the power needed to change things for good.
When I was date raped and became pregnant, I struggled to express anger as another manipulated the situation and took advantage of my fear. I said no, but I was so afraid of allowing myself to be angry at another person that I didn’t allow anger to help me get out. Afterward, I continued to believe I could carry the weight of his cruel actions and hid the anger I needed to feel. I became numb inside. Instead of anger moving me toward righteous action that truthfully called things what they were, I became more fearful, more exhausted internally, and more afraid to be real. I hid anger under a pretense of being fine.
Eventually, I noticed a pattern of not feeling anger at people who were destructive and harmful. This wasn’t evidence of healing; it was the result of martyring myself to accept other people’s damaging words and actions which devalued the life God gave me.
When we do not express righteous anger toward a perpetrator, we are inclined to show compassion toward those who are destructive. When a victim stands up to abusive actions, and anger is present, the believing community often shames the person who was harmed because they express anger. Anger at injustice is designed to lead us to actions that provide safety and change. When we do not express righteous anger, our anger doesn’t go away. Unexpressed righteous anger is often misplaced, which furthers harm instead of God’s good.
What Happens When We Deny Reality
The premise behind believing anger is a sin seems to include the way we sum up snapshots of Scripture.
Scripture refers to the fool as someone who is quick-tempered (Proverbs 14:17). Proverbs 22:24-25 tells us not to be friends with someone prone to angry responses. In both situations, the anger expressed is destructive by someone who is considered foolish. Notice also, these verses point to someone who refuses wisdom, knowledge, and instruction (Proverbs 18:12, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 28:25). The fool refuses guidance and wise counsel, leaving them in a prideful god-like position for their lives and the lives of others.
What if the person who is prone to a quick temper and angry actions is someone who has experienced hurt and injustice but refuses to deal with it? If truth is denied long enough, hearts become hardened which leads to a lack of attention or care for the effects our lives have on others.
Denied realities build walls around our hearts that keep us from being moldable to the work of the Holy Spirit. We may think we’re doing a good thing by pretending we’re better off than we are, or we may do our best to make sure we’re right, good, and never wrong, which only makes things worse. Our attempts to get it all right lead us to rely on ourselves, even if we say we’re trusting God.
Refusing healing and growth paves the way to destructive anger.
When Anger Remains Hidden
Believing anger is a sin, or that all anger is always bad, fosters self-deception. We hide what is already in us to seem righter than we feel. Our anger is not hidden from God, and it is often not hidden from others. Our brains don’t automatically process unaddressed anger. Neither do our nervous systems.
By putting on a smile and shoving anger underground, we set ourselves up for explosive reactions. It’s like filling a canister with pressure that builds up while refusing to open a release valve. Underlying anger causes a host of problems while the pressure builds up, and when it can no longer be contained. Hidden anger affects our belief systems, our ability to receive God’s truth, our ability to receive acts of love, and our ability to connect well with God and others.
What We Can Do With Anger Instead of Hiding It
When we deny angry feelings, we deny awareness. We also cut off our ability to respond to what anger tells us. Awareness is a critical first step for any kind of change. Including how we deal with anger. One way to move from intolerable, destructive anger to purposeful anger used for good, is to acknowledge the feeling.
Dr. Daniel Siegel coined the term, “Name It to Tame It.” The simple act of naming distressing emotions reduces their intensity helping our brains shift gears. Rather than denying anger’s existence, naming its presence is healing.
After acknowledgment, increase awareness. Notice anger’s impact on your ability to respond well in stressful situations. Consider the effect of anger, even denied anger that seems dormant under smiles and laughter, on your ability to tolerate being alone. Notice interactions with others. Do you use attacking words and body language? Do you blame others when you feel bad inside?
Emotions are designed to lead us to action. Emotional awareness helps us take action that fosters rest, peace, and fullness of life. Notice anger. Notice it’s impact, then address the underlying reasons for its presence.
Exploring What’s Under the Anger
Anger is often considered a secondary emotion. Before we feel anger, we experience other emotions tied to injustices we’ve experienced, which may be due to someone’s harmful actions or our unmet expectations. Awareness helps us examine the underlying injustice as well as the underlying emotions connected to injustice.
When our focus becomes being right, feeling right, and getting things right, we fuel the likelihood of destructive anger. Anytime someone doesn’t do what we think they should do, our prideful expectations go unmet, and we retaliate with destructive anger that harms ourselves and others.
Under anger, lie emotions and experiences that feel vulnerable. Feelings of sadness, aloneness, betrayal, rejection and fear are common experiences that don’t feel good. Attempts to protect ourselves from these vulnerable feelings often lead to anger.
Is God Mad at Me for Feeling Bad?
Another way to look at the question we started with, is to reframe it by asking if God is mad because we feel and do things we think make us bad. Perhaps like me, you’ve believed you’re bad if you feel anger. Therefore, God must be mad at you. What if we saw God’s heart for us in understanding our struggles and meeting us in our pain? Could we see how Scripture collectively reveals a God who calls us to steward our souls so we can live more whole with him?
Listed above are several verses on anger which I read through a distorted view of condemnation. Today, they encourage me. I feel connected to a God who wants all of me brought into relationship with him. All means all. Every emotion, every doubt, every fear, every concern. He can handle it. Proverbs 14:29 says those who are slow to anger have great understanding. Perhaps understanding comes from awareness and responsiveness to what is real about our experiences. And what is real about who we are, as God sees us.
Scripture reveals God’s anger toward injustice and oppression, toward the things that keep us from being fully connected to him and connected to other people. May our anger reveal real injustices that grieve God’s heart and may we be drawn toward his comfort and love.