What is Anger and Where Does It Come From?


What is Anger and Where Does It Come From?

I would love to tell you that I have never lost my temper, but it’s just not true.  I do.  I have.  I have lost my temper with my wife and kids the most.  How is it that we can lose our temper most with the people we love the most?  What is anger and where does it come from?

We use the phrase ‘don’t lose your temper.’  This suggests that we have control over it, but the truth is that anger appears within us not be choice, but spontaneously in the moment.  We regret it later after saying things that only reflected our momentary frustration, but not how we actually feel about the persons we lost it with.  Our temper is not something that we turn off or on.  Yet, The Bible has a clear command to us.

What does God say about anger?

James 1:19-20

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (NIV)


God is teaching us that we are supposed to have some kind of control over our temper.  As much as I can choose to listen better, I can choose to be angry less…or at least that is what it seems God is saying about anger.  God doesn’t command us to do something that we are unable to do, right?  


We do have the power to end our temper tantrums.  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).  The same discipline that Christ had over his temper, we can have.  Sometimes, we see Christ only as supernatural and forget that He was a supernatural God choosing to live as a natural man.  This is why He would pray.  This is why He needed the Holy Spirit.  This is why He needed angels to attend to Him.  Yes, He is, was, and forever will be God Most High, but when He came to Earth, He was God choosing to live as a man.  As a natural man, He was tempted in every way (Hebrews 4:15).  He did not control His anger as God who cannot be tempted (James 1:13).  He controlled His temper by the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit we have been given to give us the discipline we need to not lose it with people.  And the Holy Spirit is always present, already ready to give us the power to do what God has commanded us to do.  So, God says we are able to control our temper, but how?


What Emotion is Behind Anger?

This may be the biggest question for us to ask when we are attempting to control our temper.  The difficulty in anger from God’s perspective is that He is commanding us to control our temper, yet anger is not something we choose.  We don’t decide when we are going to angry.  In fact, we can’t even choose how angry we will become.  Haven’t you ever lost it with someone over something so small and insignificant that you were embarrassed later at your behavior?  We have all done this.  I remember yelling at my kids over the dumbest things.  When I look back I am totally befuddled as to why I got so angry, but I did.  Before we can ‘control’ something that we can’t actually control, we must first understand where it comes from.


James 4:1-2

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. (NIV)


James goes a long way to help us understand where anger is conceived within our hearts.  He says we have desires but we do not have.  In other words, there are things that we want, but we are not getting them.  So this is the beginning of anger.  Whatever it might be, holy desires or wicked desires, we are not getting what we want.  Maybe we want a friend to get off drugs and get their life straight, but the last time they called, high as a kite, we lost it because we were not getting what we want.  And even though we may want something good, if our reaction to not getting what we want causes us to be harsh with someone and say things we shouldn’t say, our desire for something good led to an angry rant.  The Bible says we should never use words except what builds others up, even if we are angry with them (Ephesians 4:29).


Anger begins with our desires.  We will come back to this but let’s go further in James.  He says that we covet but can’t get what we want.  Coveting is not simply wanting something, but it is wanting what someone else has.  Coveting involves jealousy.  It is not just that I want a new car, but in my desire for a new car, I get irritated that my friend got a new car instead of me.  I’m not just mad that I’m still driving the old clunker, but I’m mad they are not driving a clunker.  


What emotion is behind anger?  It’s desire.  We desire something that we don’t have, can’t get, and maybe someone else we know did.  This is why we fight and quarrel he teaches.  


The next time you get into a fight with someone you love, try to stop for a minute and figure out what you are wanting from them that they are not giving you.  Maybe you want them to give you more attention but they are focused elsewhere.  Maybe you want more respect from them.  After all, you are the ‘head of the house,’ after all, you are ‘the parent.’  But when they treat you with disrespect, you get angry.


An Example from the Bible

There are two characters in the Bible that help us to really understand what anger is and where it comes from.  The first is Namaan and the second is Jonah.


Namaan was a man who had leprosy.  Despite his leprosy, he was a successful commander in the army so when his king heard of the prophet of Israel healing those with leprosy, he sent Namaan there.  But when Namaan, arrived to see Elisha, Elisha didn’t come out to see him.  Can you imagine?  Namaan had come a long way to see Elisha and Elisha doesn’t even have the decency to come out to talk to Namaan.  Instead, Elisha sent a messenger.  This really angered Namaan.  He did not feel he was getting the respect he deserved as an important commander of the army.  He desired respect but wasn’t getting it so he was angry.  Elisha sent the messenger out to tell Namaan how to be healed, but Namaan was so angry at the disrespect of Elisha that he was not about to follow the directions given to him by Elisha’s messenger.  But that wasn’t all.


The messenger told him to go and wash himself in the Jordan river seven times.  Namaan didn’t like this either.  He wanted Elisha to come out with some big healing ceremony, pomp and circumstance, but he didn’t get it.  And he thought to himself that there were better rivers than the Jordan.  Here is what Namaam said:


2 Kings 5:11-12

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage. (NIV)


We have to pause and get the full effect of this.  Namaan did not have a cold.  He had leprosy.  His body was transformed into something like a monster in a horror movie.  This disease was something that causes people to not want to have anything to do with you.  It is not the common cold.  It affected how he was able to interact with people and if he was about to interact with people.  It affected how people looked at him.  This was not something insignificant.  His entire life was being messed up by this disease yet he was so full of rage that he didn’t even want to give the cure a try.  How many things have we rejected, how many opportunities, how many blessings simply because we weren’t getting the respect or the attention we craved.  But that’s what anger does.  By our own anger, we forfeit the good things God wants to give us.  


Well, just to give you the rest of the story, Namaan’s servant talks him down from the ledge.  Basically, he says to Namaan, is it really going to cost you that much to go down to the Jordan and wash.  Don’t miss this opportunity because you didn’t get what you wanted was his message.  So Namaan went and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times and after that seventh time, he skin was restored miraculously.  Can you imagine if he had missed that opportunity simply because he didn’t get what he wanted?  Isn’t it time for you to stop allowing your temper to keep you from the life God wants for you?


God’s Anger Management Plan

First, let me say that as a counselor, I can give you many different interventions to help you not do something you will regret when you are angry.  In marriage counseling, I often recommend ‘An Argument Notebook.”  This is a notebook where couples will write out their arguments one to another and back and forth.  This helps to not scream and yell, stay on subject, and hopefully, work through an issue without deep hurt.  There are many things that we hear from the mental health field that would be helpful if we could just ‘control’ our temper.  Even when I assign The Argument Notebook to a couple, their ability to use it is dependent upon their ability to ‘control’ their temper enough in the moment to take the time and start writing instead of yelling and insulting immediately.  But we all know how hard it would be to stop in the middle and start writing each other notes.   The real key to ‘controlling’ the temper that you can’t really ‘control’ is found again in James.  Let me share with you God’s Anger Management Plan.


At the end, I will give you some places to go with more anger-management techniques that will help you ‘control’ your anger, but God wants to relieve you of it.  He wants to give you the same attitude as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5-6), who prayed for God to forgive those who crucified Him even as He hung on the cross.  This is God’s will for us.  Secular psychology will try to teach you techniques to not allow your anger to come out and these techniques are good, but the ultimate goal is a pure heart.


I know…you are thinking to yourself, “Well, Jesus got mad at the Temple.”  Yes, He did, but He was angry on behalf of people who were being taken advantage of.  God’s law called for them to travel to Jerusalem in order to offer sacrifices and pay their Temple tax.  Once they got to Jerusalem, the people selling the animals and exchanging their money were fleecing them with jacked up prices and bad exchange rates.  They were making it hard for people to worship God as He had prescribed.  Jesus got angry and threw over the tables.  This is righteous anger.


What is Righteous Anger?

Righteous anger is anger we should have.  It is getting angry that babies are aborted and girls are snatched up in the sex trade.  It is being angry when people use their power to take advantage of the innocent, the defenseless.  We want this kind of anger.  It is godly and it moves us into action to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.  But unrighteous anger destroys everything it touches.


Let’s go back to James to look at God’s Anger Management Plan.  He says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.”  There it is.  Anger stems from not getting what you want from people, but the solution is going to God.  But it is not as plain as going to God and asking for what you want from people.  If you feel, husbands, that your wife is not giving you the respect you deserve as the man of the house, you can’t start praying that God force your wife to be more respectful.  Wives, you can’t start praying, “Lord, please make my husband be nice to me, take out the trash all the time, and be more romantic.”  Nope that ain’t gonna work 🙂


The key is asking God for those things you are craving.  The first thing the Lord will do is check your motive.  Remember the Scripture says that we don’t get from the Lord what we ask for because we have the wrong motives (James 4:2-3).  He is going to ask you why you need more respect from your wife in order to be content.  He is going to ask why you need your husband to be more considerate so that you can stop getting so made at him.  The Lord’s point is why do you need anything from anyone when He is your portion (Lamentation 3:24).  He is your everything.  He has already given you more than enough of whatever it is that you feel you aren’t getting from people.  


He is going to remind you that no matter how badly someone else may be treating you, He has never done this.  He has respected you and honored you with His kindness, blessings, and gifts when you didn’t deserve it.  He has loved you with an everlasting love even when you weren’t loving Him.  He is going to remind you that you may be craving from a person what only God can give.  He will change your prayer.  You won’t keep asking God to change others, but to change you.  You will ask the Lord to help you be content with all that He has done for you and not to be angry when someone else or even He, the Lord, doesn’t give to you what you want.


Don’t be like Jonah who was angry with God for taking away his shade in the hot desert.  When God asked Jonah if he had a right to be angry, Jonah said, “You betcha God! I sure do!”  God was trying to teach Jonah that sometimes, He doesn’t give us what we want to teach us how to be content with Him and not make Him into some kind of spiritual sugar daddy or genie in a bottle to be summoned only to get what we want.  That kind of relationship will not keep us connected to Him living by faith.  That kind of relationship is anything but godly.  God knows we must learn to be content with Him and what He allows in our life to keep us tied to Him and not to what He can do for us.  This is the kind of relationship that brings contentment, joy, inner-peace, salvation, and one day…Heaven.  God’s anger-management plan is much better than the world’s.  Follow it and find your peace.  


Isaiah 26:3-4

3 You will keep in perfect peace

those whose minds are steadfast,

because they trust in you.

4 Trust in the Lord forever,

for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. (NIV)


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