In the Old Testament, we read of instances when the Lord shows forth his anger toward his disobedient followers. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai listening to the Lord’s instructions about The Sabbath, and receiving the two tablets of the Testimony, Aaron and the people grew impatient in their waiting. Instead, they took matters into their own hands and made a god for themselves in the form of a golden calf. Their stiff-necked action angered the Lord greatly, but Moses pleaded for them so they would not be destroyed, and the Lord relented (Exodus 32). Elsewhere, the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years and did not see the land God had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – except for Caleb and Joshua who followed the Lord wholeheartedly – because the Lord’s anger burned against their disobedience (Numbers 32).
However, the biblical text emphatically suggests that even God bridles his anger and is instead slow to anger and abounding in love, compassion, grace, faithfulness, mercy, and forgiveness. In Exodus 34, Moses proclaims this contrast, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” In Nehemiah 9:17, Nehemiah reiterates this same truth about God. Jonah, when he disobeyed God’s instructions, and lands in the belly of a fish, comes forth with the testimony, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.” David the psalmist joins the glad refrain in Psalms 86 and 103, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever.”
In the New Testament Jesus instructs his followers, “that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Paul the apostle reminds the people of God that “love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13: 5) and “in your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26).
Anger is something that swells from a heart that’s desirous of punishing another by expressing words, attitudes, and actions that ultimately hurt and potentially destroy. The Bible instructs us that anger is usually combined with hostility, strife and dissension. It’s generally unleashed, aroused, burning, fierce, consumed, and harsh. It’s rarely affirmed as productive toward any relationship. In fact, quite the opposite. “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control,” Proverbs 29:11. And in clear analogies, “As churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife,” Proverbs 30:33.
How then do we curb our anger and not let it consume our heart? If we don’t want to let the sun go down on our anger or give the devil a foothold on our hearts and relationships with others, then how do we keep from sinning in the midst of our anger? The God-honoring, relationship-building answer: “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” James 1:19.
Quick to listen + Slow to speak = Slow to become angry. A simple equation to offer, but incredibly difficult to execute. Since most of our anger spews like lava from the hotbed of our troubled souls, it often feels impossible to contain. But, does it always have to come pouring out to burn and consume another? The passage in James suggests otherwise. Quick to listen…stop yourself, cease quarreling, restrain judgment, ask questions, empathetically listen. Slow to speak…hold your tongue, pause reflectively, ponder deeply, consider carefully, love graciously. Slow to become anger…hold back, reconsider, measure your words, monitor your tone of voice, watch your body language. An angry heart is an ugly heart. How will you monitor your anger today?