Anger affects us in different ways and for different reasons. And our manifestations of anger might prompt us to speak – or even shout – our frustration, while we pout, stomp, kick, curse, and more.
Sometimes, our anger gets misdirected. We might lash out at others over a bad day at work or pass blame when things don’t go our way.
We might even express anger toward God when our life doesn’t go the way we planned, or He doesn’t seem to answer our prayers as quickly or as favorably as we would like.
How does God respond when we get angry with Him? Will He cut us off from Himself, or will He forgive us?
God promises to forgive our sins when we confess and repent, because he is rich in mercy. And when we come to Him with our anger, He patiently gives us the grace to work through our anger.
Is Anger Always a Sin?
Before we consider how our anger gets directed at God, let’s take a step back and take a broader look at anger.
There are countless reasons why people experience anger. Some are just, and some are not. When we witness injustice in the world, it is right to experience a feeling of anger. When we experience direct harm or unfair treatment, anger is not necessarily an unjustified response.
But what we do with our anger matters.
In your anger do not sin – Ephesians 4:26
From Paul’s simple instruction, we understand that anger itself is not necessarily a sin. But it can lead to sinful sentiments and expressions, which scripture cautions us to avoid:
- Hatred, jealousy, and fits of rage (Galatians 5:19). When anger sows seeds of hatred and jealousy in our hearts, it robs us of the love of God that we ought to have toward others. While physical expressions of anger are often damaging to the people around us.
- Rage, malice, and slander (Colossians 3:8). These are expressions of anger that are pointedly directed at and expressed toward others in thought, word, and deed.
For these reasons, James writes that “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20). Anger that is rooted in impure thinking or that leads to sinful action is neither righteous nor productive.
Anger is unique in many ways. As an emotion, it is a secondary feeling born of fear, pain, or disappointment. And as a driver of our thoughts and actions, it opens the door to a variety of sins.
So how does God respond to our anger?
When we are Angry with God
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love. – Psalm 145:8
The Bible reminds us that God is slow to anger because we often are not.
In human interactions, anger frequently begets anger. A harsh word toward another is met with an equally harsh response, and this continues until what was once a discussion spirals into an argument rife with emotions. Similarly, a fist thrown in anger can lead to a scuffle, a brawl, or even a war.
But because God is slow to anger, He gives us room to express and wrestle with our own anger while He patiently endures for our sake. Let us look at some well-known examples from scripture:
Of all of the people in the Bible, Job stands out as the one with the most reason to be angry. He had lost his family, his wealth, and his health, and he had no idea why all of these things happened to him.
Chapter after chapter, we read his friends trying to convince him to repent and return to God in order to be freed from his punishment. Yet Job maintained his innocence.
Despite his initial refusal to curse God (Job 2:9-10), Job’s frustration with his circumstance and his unhelpful friends eventually came out in his words:
- Does it please you to oppress me, to spurn the work of your hands, while you smile on the plans of the wicked? (v 10:3)
- Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. (v31:35)
When God finally did speak, He led by challenging Job’s accusations against Him (v 38:2). In response, Job confessed to speaking of things that he did not understand (v 42:3).
Still, God, full of compassion and mercy, restored Job’s health and blessed him with twice the wealth he had previously, ten more children, and a long and peaceful life.
Just as Job’s anger is the most sympathetic, Moses’ anger is perhaps the most famous. He was prone to expressing his frustrations, and often misdirecting his anger toward God.
Before God called Moses, Moses had already shown his propensity toward anger by killing an Egyptian for mistreating an Israelite. Moses responded to God’s initial call by arguing with God and suggesting more than once that He send someone else. Nevertheless, God saw fit to select Moses—despite his protest— to lead His people.
Moses’ tenure as the leader of the Israelites was marked with difficulty, and on more than one occasion he directed his frustrated outbursts toward God:
- Complaining about food (Numbers 11). God fed the people daily by providing manna from heaven, but the Israelites grumbled because they wanted meat. In pleading to God on their behalf, Moses asked, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant?” (v 11). Yet, in His mercy, God supplied the people with quail to eat.
- Striking the rock (Numbers 20). The people complained to Moses that they had no water, so God instructed Moses to speak to the rock, and He would supply them with water. Instead, Moses struck the rock with his staff. Still, God was faithful and supplied them with water.
- Breaking the tablets (Exodus 32). When Moses returned from the mountain of the Lord to the Israelite camp, holding the Ten Commandments, he found the Israelites worshiping the golden calf that they had made in his absence. In his anger, he threw the tablets, gifts from God, to the ground and they shattered. Later, the Lord replaced the original tablets.
Despite his anger, and despite not being permitted to enter the Promised Land himself, Moses was delivered to a place where He could see the gift of God and the fruits of his leadership before he entered into rest.
John 11 recounts the story of Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ miraculous raising of Lazarus.
When Lazarus was sick but still alive, his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus to come and heal him (vs 1-3).
But Jesus waited… (v 5).
When Jesus finally reached Mary and Martha, Lazarus was already dead (v 17). So Martha accused him, saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v 21).
Yet, Jesus responded only with compassion. He comforted Martha with words of hope. He wept with Mary as she wept. And He restored Lazarus to life.
Learning from David’s Words
David may not be famous for his anger, but His writings reveal how he wrestled with grief and anguish:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. – Psalm 22:1-2
Yet, as we read them, we discover that even as he levied such strong accusations against God, he recognized God’s lordship. Even as he lamented his pain, he trusted in God to rescue him. Even as he was surrounded by enemies, he called on God’s strength to be his deliverance.
At times, we all can relate to David. No matter the source of our pain and anger, we are invited to follow David’s example and let it out before God. We need not be shy. God already knows our hearts, and invites us to be honest with Him and with ourselves.
Owning Our Anger and Receiving Forgiveness
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:8-9
None of us is immune to anger. But when we confess our anger, and bring it before the Lord, as David so beautifully does in Psalm 22, we find only a God who is faithful to His promise. For He has taken our sin upon Himself on the cross so that we may receive mercy and forgiveness in return.