How do we as believers deal with anger and other emotions?
Jesus was rejected, despised, frustrated and compassionate, but what about angry? Hmmm…Anger is one of those topics we as Christians do not often want to deal with; it feels unsafe, and is often a misunderstood emotion. It’s not talked about very much except perhaps in therapy. As believers it’s almost an unspoken law, “Thou shall not get mad; thou shall not show your anger to anyone–it’s unchristian!” It’s been my observation and experience that when anger is pushed away from God’s light and the eyes of others, it causes many problems.
There are many reasons we get mad: an unmet need, a wound from a friend, a death, any type of loss, betrayal, repeated rejection, disrupted schedule, someone getting in your way, waiting for a long time for something, and the list goes on and on. We tend to take on a lot of guilt when we’re angry too, well some people do, and that only compounds the issue. Often condemnation enters and along with that, many other negative feelings. I think it’s a feeling God wants to talk about so that we find freedom instead of shame.
I used to be afraid of being like the Israelites when they complained in the wilderness. So much so, that I would keep things all bottled up, afraid that if I told God or anyone how I really felt about things, I would be sinning. Then I erroneously though that God, who always seemed angry, would make me wander in my wilderness for longer than I already had been. But God freed me as I was thinking about this. He told me,
“Forget about when Israel complained in the wilderness! I don’t deal with people that way anymore. You are under grace now. I got all my anger out when Jesus hung on the cross. In fact, I’ll never be angry with you again–ever. I don’t look at you like I looked at them. Just relax and be yourself before Me. There is nothing to fear now. I stand in the gap and intercede for you (Romans 8:26). I alone can interpret all you say and feel. Even if you are really mad, trust Me that I know all about it. Go ahead and get out all that you feel. My redemption covers this sort of thing. There is no punishment for being angry–ever. I can and will always be taking your emotions into my great hands. Don’t be afraid. I want you to tell Me exactly how you feel all the time and don’t hold back.”
Wow, that really ministered to my fearing heart. I had not realized that I had made an internal law, “Thou shall not complain or get angry at anything in life.” When I tried to keep that law I always broke it. God freed us from the law–no matter where law, or legalistic righteousness, shows up in our lives. Jesus had so many people mad at Him His entire life, but His love covered all that their anger dished out upon Him. That alone was miraculous. He came to save those who hurt Him most; and really, that is all of us.
Jeremiah 15 depicts an interesting example of telling God how you feel, even if you are mad at Him. Jeremiah was going through a tough time and was in prayer to God and feeling quite alone. (Sound familiar?) Then Jeremiah says, “Why has my pain been perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Wilt Thou be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable?” (Jeremiah 15:18). I know I’ve felt sometimes as if God were jerking me around or fooling me somehow. Our feelings can trick us when the opposite from what you need or want happens, leaving us feeling that we can’t quite trust God. Doubt creeps into our minds and we question if He is reliable. Of course, that can make anyone angry. We tend to sweep these sorts of feelings under the carpet. We can’t accept that we are so weak to blame God, and yet sometimes we do blame Him. When I do, I feel awful for it.
It is much better to admit we are mad at God than to try to cover it up. Here Jeremiah stated it like he felt it. God didn’t shut him down or blast him with some punishment. In fact, God promised him deliverance, redemption, and salvation. God has allowed us to see Jeremiah’s heart, and to see that God wasn’t bothered by how he felt right then. He does indeed understand our short-sightedness, our struggles in life, and He knows our doubts too. He knows why you may find it hard to trust Him; so much is wrapped up in our relationship history with people. He understands completely. It’s okay. Just be honest with Him.
Psalm 4 records David talking about anger. Many times we run from anger because we think being angry means we either haven’t forgiven someone, or that we don’t have enough faith, or don’t trust God enough. Condemnation can creep into our thinking because we’re angry. David says in verse 4-5, “Tremble, and do not sin; meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” “Tremble” means to quiver with anger or fear. “Meditate” means to speak or commune with. In verse 4, the KJV says, “Stand in awe, and sin not.” Awe means the same as tremble. So don’t run away, but stand right in the midst of how you feel, even if it’s unpleasant. Go to God with your feelings. If you feel angry during the night, tell Him all about it, right on your bed. The bed is a place of privacy and quietness. Our ears are often more open to His voice when we are still.
David encourages us to trust in the Lord. Trust means telling Him all about your situation. Normally we feel better when we tell someone else about how we feel. God made us in such a way that we need to get out what’s in our hearts. It’s never a one-way conversation with God. He always hears you and is eager to speak with you. It’s when we don’t talk it over with Him that we end up sinning. David knew the truth of what he wrote. Don’t bury your feelings, because you may end up taking your anger out on someone else. In verse 1 of the same Psalm, David says, “Thou hast relieved me in my distress.”
“Relieved” can mean to make room for. God is never pushing away how you feel. He makes room for all that is in your heart. When we do feel angry or fearful, and those two emotions often go together, David tells us to offer sacrifices of righteousness. I puzzled over what that meant and the Lord showed me something wonderful. When we are born-again, we receive the righteousness of Christ. Nothing in ourselves is righteous, nothing. We can never come to God with anything good in ourselves to offer as a sacrifice. The whole idea of a sacrifice is that the death of another is offered in place of our own. So if our righteousness comes from Christ alone, then a righteous sacrifice means just coming to God, standing in the righteousness of Christ. We come just as we are, angry, fearful or however you feel. We stand on what Jesus has done in our place. Our acceptance before God isn’t based on us, on how we feel, or on our actions. It is all based on what Jesus did.
Therefore we can come to God with all that we feel, without condemnation or fear of rejection. David came to God in his anger and told Him all about it and the Psalm ends by saying, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for Thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety” (vs. 8). David had peace that his feelings would never push God away from him.
One summer when I was in college I went on an overseas summer mission trip. I had only been a Christian a few years then, and was so excited to share Jesus with the entire world–well, it felt like the entire world at the time. I was thrilled beyond description to travel overseas, and I even forced myself to stay awake all night on the plane as we flew right into the sunrise.
We landed in London and spent the first night in a church. There were roughly two hundred of us sleeping on the church floor that night. It was cozy and everyone was very friendly. As we got ready to bed down, I did not feel well. I knew I had a fever and didn’t like the prospect of being sick on such a trip as this. The more I thought about feeling sick, I began to get angry. Not knowing about covering up my feelings, I just told God how I saw it, saying something like, “I came all the way over here to serve You and now this? I’m really mad, God, and in fact, I’m not even going to have my quiet time tonight. I don’t feel like talking to You.” And with that I got in my sleeping bag and went right to sleep.
When I got up the next morning, my fever was totally gone and I felt great. I felt bad that I told God off and yet later on, I heard Him tell me it was okay. He knew how I felt and He wasn’t put off. I didn’t feel guilty either. It was just an honest response to what was going on. After the fact, I realized the fever was probably the result of the long trip, as God is not the author of sickness. God’s grace honors honesty, and when you are mad, you are just that–mad. It’s better to run to the Person who can help you rather than hide it–or worse yet, pretend you’re fine, when you’re not.
As we are looking at Jesus, let’s observe a couple times when He got a bit hot under the collar. Matthew 11:20 says, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.” “Repent” means to change your mind. Jesus was reproaching those cities because they had not changed their minds about who He was. They did not see Jesus as God, even after the attesting miracles. Let’s look at this word reproach. It means to rail at, chide, upbraid. This is not a passive word. Jesus really cared about people knowing who He was and is. He was in our human frame, and felt deeply about His work to save us. How many of us are afraid to say what we really think, afraid of the response we’ll get? Jesus was honest to the core.
Following on the heels of this reproach is verse 28: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” An invitation, the opposite of a reproach. He was imploring the weary and heavy laden–those under the yoke of the law, slaves to something, unable to get results in any area of life–to come to Him. Jesus was able to reproach one moment because He did it out of truth, and then reveal love and give an invitation the next moment, without hypocrisy. If Jesus did today what He did here in Matthew 11–first reproach and then invite us to come to His gentleness–we might be stunned by His honesty, especially in public.
Jesus described Himself: “I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). In other words, “Don’t be afraid of Me ever! Don’t run away from Me when you are burdened with cares of this world.” Jesus was revealing more of God’s nature to us in Matthew 11. Jesus was gentle and humble because He had absolute dependence on the Father.
Later, in Matthew 12, Jesus went into a synagogue. A man with a withered hand was present. I think when Jesus saw the sick, deformed, or lame, it made Him angry and sad. He never intended mankind to suffer like we do. But in this case the Pharisees questioned Jesus right in the synagogue, asking, “’Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’–in order that they might accuse Him” (vs.10). To be constantly questioned of course made Jesus angry.
Jesus knew their motives and what He said next really struck the heart of the matter. “What man shall there be among you, who shall have one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it, and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11-12). In fact, this same incident, also recorded in Mark 3:5 says, “And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart…” This is a time that Scripture uses the specific word “anger” in relation to Jesus. Jesus cleared the temple later on, but here the Spirit wants us to know this situation made Jesus mad.
And yet, the patience of Jesus seemed to override any temptation to take out His feelings on anyone. This was real meekness in action. Jesus knew the Jewish leaders cared about the Law and not about healing this poor man whose life had probably been ruined by a hand he was unable to use. Jesus asked the man to stretch out his hand and, it was restored to normal, fully healed, just like the other. What a victory! Verse 14 says, “But the Pharisees went out, and counseled together against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”
How much fortitude did Jesus have just then? I can only imagine how awful it felt to heal, get rejected for it, then to have people after your very life. Plus, no one seemed happy that the man was healed. Matthew 12:15 records, “But Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed Him, and He healed them all.” Not just a few, not with malice in his heart, but He healed them all.
Matthew 12:19 quotes Isaiah 42, which provides an interesting insight into Jesus’ character: “He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish” (Isaiah 42:2-3). Even though He was still human and had deep feelings, in Isaiah 42 we see His humility and patience. Jesus wasn’t outside ranting and raving about how He was being treated by them. He entrusted Himself to His Father.
Isaiah 42:4 also adds, “He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth.” Jesus knew His divinity and humanity all at the same time. He had the Spirit of the Father in Him and He was totally God; but He allowed Himself to partake of our humanity. I think part of His humility was seen in taking the brunt of so much rejection, misunderstanding, and betrayal; and yet, even if angry, He didn’t take it out on those coming against Him. Being both God and man allowed Him to feel things much more deeply than we ever could.
When you are angry, just know it comes with being human. He knows how you feel when hurt or rejected. He knows that anger is a hard emotion to deal with. Go to Him with all of your feelings, no matter how intense they are. Try not to ignore or deny how you really feel. God wants to know what’s going on in your heart and longs to restore you. “Thou dost desire truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51:6). Regardless of the cause of your anger, share it with Him and be assured He will help you through it. Receive all the support and provision you need that comes only from His heart!
(This is chapter 11 from a book titled, “The Feelings of Jesus” that you can find on Amazon).