If you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you’ve probably heard two distinct ideas about anger. The first is that anger is sinful (it’s not necessarily). The second is that anger is sinful unless it’s “righteous indignation” over things that are wrong (which is sometimes a pretty broad way of letting ourselves off the hook for sinful anger).
Anger isn’t sinful, in and of itself. It’s a human emotion, and God gave us all of our emotional capabilities for good purposes. But as is the case with our other emotions, anger can be sinful, harmful, and counterproductive to our holiness and health when it comes from a self-centered source. And it often does.
James gave us some clarity with this portion of a verse:
Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
~ James 1:20 NIV
It is possible to be angry without sinning, when your anger is rooted in righteousness. In other words, when you’re mad at something that God would be mad at, anger is helpful. Into this category might fall injustice, oppression, and evil.
But if we’re honest, most of our anger is about ourselves. It flows from our need to be vindicated for wrongs we feel have been committed against us. Further, we have a tendency to hang onto anger and process it in a way that, even when we’re angry about the correct issues, we don’t express it in holy ways.
Our expressions of anger can be damaging and harmful to ourselves and the people around us. Anger can alienate us from the people we love and hurt the relationships we lean into most. And that’s because anger is a secondary emotion. It’s the result of hurt, or pain, or loss. It forms when we bottle up grief or bitterness.
The very best thing you can do with any and all of your angry feelings is to slow down, take a breath, and express them to God. He can handle it. And he can help you. He already knows about your anger and he’s already provided the emotional resources you need to work through it in a holy and healthy way.