As I write this, the most famous golfer in the world is embroiled in a scandal regarding his personal life. I won’t go into that, since this isn’t the Enquirer or one of its clones. But one thing that was brought to the nation’s attention, at least for a moment, was his chosen religion, namely Buddhism.
Believe it or not, there are some positive elements in Buddhism. That doesn’t make it true, of course, and this doesn’t negate the fact that there’s no salvation outside of Christ. But one of the aspects which I find fascinating about it is the ultimate goal. According to its belief system, all passion leads to suffering. Anger, passion, and especially hatred have to be shunned, because they always lead to bad things. So we need to empty ourselves of all that.
But is that the picture that Scripture presents of anger? Well, first let’s take a look at Proverbs, and then we’ll look at some other passages which provide context.
• Repeatedly Solomon counsels against losing control of your temper. In both 14:29 and 29:11 he associates it with foolishness. Remember that in the Old Testament, a “fool” isn't someone who’s mentally deficient, but morally deficient. He’s not saying that it’s stupid to be quick-tempered, or at least that’s not his main point. Foolishness is linked to rebelliousness and disobedience against God. It is—and leads to—turning away from his plan for you.
• But there are self-centered reasons to get this under control as well. Look at the image presented in 25:28. Why did a city in those days need a wall? For protection against invaders. Without walls, a city was at the mercy of any army that passed by. In the same way, a man without self-control is at the mercy of his circumstances. If you’re letting that obnoxious co-worker make you angry on a regular basis, that person is controlling you. Do you want to be under the control of the next person who ticks you off?
But here are some other things to consider which Solomon doesn’t address here. Anger in itself is not a bad thing. Jesus was angry, and there are multiple accounts of this. He was angry at the merchants and priests who were abusing people in the Temple courts. He was also upset at his disciples when they tried to keep children away from him. Our Lord was very passionate, but he channeled it in the proper direction. Paul also was extremely angry with false teachers who were trying to sway immature believers from the truth (you can see one sample in this passage in Galatians).
Speaking on anger in his book on Proverbs, William Arnot put it thus (way better than I ever could, naturally):
"Anger cannot, indeed, be, and in a certain sense ought not to be, cast wholly out of man in the present state. On some occasions we do well to be angry; but in these cases both the nature and the object of the affection should be jealously watched. The only legitimate anger is a holy emotion directed against an unholy thing. Sin, and not our neighbour, must its object: zeal for righteousness, and not our own pride must be its distinguishing character. The exercise of anger, although not necessarily sinful, is for us exceedingly difficult and dangerous. It is like fire in the hands of children. Although it is possible for them in certain cases to handle it safely and usefully, we know that in point of fact they more frequently do harm with it than good. Accordingly we are accustomed, as a prudential measure, to forbid absolutely its use among the children. If anger in the moral department is like fire in the physical, we, even the best of us, are like little children. Unless we have attained the wisdom and stature of “perfect men in Christ,” we cannot take this fire into our bosom without burning thereby ourselves and our neighbours. Thus it comes about, that although anger be not in its own nature and in all cases sinful, the best practical rule of life is to repress it, as if it were. The holy might use it against sin in the world, if the holy were here, but it too sharp a weapon for our handling. Let any one who tries to crucify the flesh and to please God, scrutinize his own experience in this matter, and he will find that the less he has felt of anger, the better it has been for the peace of his conscience and the usefulness of his life."
We’ll probably go into this in more detail at another time, but for now let me make some clarifying distinctions. 1) There’s a huge difference between being angry and losing your temper. If you do the latter, you’re acting foolishly and letting something or someone control you besides Christ. 2) There’s also a huge difference between standing up against injustice and trying to avenge yourself. If you’re trying to “get back” at someone who hurt you, then you obviously aren’t dealing with legitimate anger.
Just from my own observations, I would guesstimate that about 90% of the anger expressed in the world today is in the negative category. If and when we’re angry, I think it’s a very good idea to let the Holy Spirit examine us, don’t you?
Lord Jesus, you hate lots of things: sin, injustice, the destruction of people. I tend to hate the wrong things, don’t I? Please make me more like you.