Anger outbursts are common in our current climate replete with anxieties, political tensions, and disagreements over various cultural and moral issues. It’s not uncommon to encounter vitriol online as well as in places as mundane as the grocery store. It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the spirit of things, but the problem with unbridled anger is that it often leads us down the wrong path.
How to Deal with Anger Outbursts
God created us with emotional, psychological, moral, and relational capacities. These are a blessing, even though our lives often get complicated as a result. It’s important that we recognize these gifts as just that. Otherwise, we may begin either to take them for granted, distort them in how we use them, or decide to neuter them in ways that ultimately diminish our humanity.
While relationships often get messy, it’s better to learn how to build healthy relationships than to abandon them altogether. Maintaining mental health is important, and one’s well-being is tied intricately to mental well-being. Instead of pretending like all is well, the way to meet challenges in that arena is to face them head-on and pursue habits that help you thrive.
The same can be said for everything else that makes up our lives – our work, friendships, responsibilities, and so on. Yes, things can get messy in those areas, but they are gifts that can bless us. Our emotions are no different, especially anger.
When you feel angry over a political sentiment your neighbor holds, that’s an occasion for some reflection about why you are angry and emotionally invested. It’s also an opportunity to think about how best to respond. Anger usually seeks a form of expression. Some expressions of anger are helpful while others are ungodly and create more problems than they solve.
The Bible can give us guidance and wisdom for dealing with anger outbursts. They are flashes of anger that issue in hasty and hurtful words, and sometimes in physical violence. This article will look at several Bible verses as well as the life of Moses as a case study that will help us process the ins and outs of anger in the life of someone who’s trying to live in a way that pleases God.
Understand What Triggers Anger Outbursts
It’s always helpful to understand the root of an issue before you try to resolve it. People get angry because they feel threatened or attacked, or a situation makes them feel frustrated or powerless. People also get angry when they feel like they’re being invalidated or treated unfairly.
Other reasons why people get angry include experiencing stress, having family or relationship problems, and having financial issues. In some people, anger is caused by an underlying disorder such as depression, for which a diagnosis from a mental health professional is needed. When you know what lies behind your feelings of anger, you can address the issue more effectively.
People are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-30). Because of that fact, they have inherent dignity which means they should be treated with respect. In a very important sense, getting angry when you or another person are mistreated is an appropriate emotional response because that mistreatment is an affront to God’s creation. That is one reason why elsewhere in the Bible it says that it doesn’t make sense to say that you love God but hate people because those people are made in God’s image.
James 3:8-10 (ESV) says, “[The tongue] is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” First John 4:20 (NIV) says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”
Learning about Anger Outbursts from Moses
The Bible seems to indicate that Moses had a strong sense of justice. We come across this aspect of Moses in this situation, for instance:
One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting.
He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?” The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.” – Exodus 2:11-14, NIV
Whether Moses acted out of anger or not in this situation isn’t stated explicitly, but later on, we do find that Moses is often angered by the Israelites’ unwillingness to heed God’s word. While Moses was up on the mountain with God receiving God’s words to His people, the people decided to create an idol for themselves.
The Lord was angered by this disobedience. Ironically Moses begged the Lord not to destroy the people. But once Moses got down the mountain and saw for himself what was happening, the Bible records that this happened:
When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it – Exodus 32:19-20, NIV
Moses’ sense of what is right got violated, and he got angry at the people. After all, he had just begged the Lord to spare these people, and here they were being unfaithful. It was probably one too many acts of disobedience that Moses had to handle since they had been rescued from Egypt. Moses was emotionally invested in the obedience of the Israelites. He got justifiably frustrated and angry when they didn’t act as they had agreed to not long beforehand.
Breaking the tablets of the covenant in pieces wasn’t just Moses having a tantrum – it symbolized Israel’s breaking of the covenant. Just as Jesus appropriately expressed His anger at unfaithfulness toward God and callousness toward others (John 2:13-17; Mark 3:1-6), so Moses felt and expressed his anger appropriately in this situation.
Negative Consequences of Anger Outbursts
From Moses’ story, we also learn that anger outbursts, even when they seem justified, can have wide-ranging negative consequences. If you get angry and curse someone out, that can break the relationship irreparably.
If your anger erupts in violence, that can get you arrested, or it can even provoke an angry and violent response that escalates the situation. Anger is an emotion that can quickly overtake our rational capacities; we can easily say and do things in anger that we immediately regret.
It’s not easy being a leader. A lot of the time it’s a thankless task – when things go well, people don’t always notice or bother to say, “Thank you.” When things go wrong, even if they were completely out of your hands, people often look to blame someone. In Moses’ case, he caught most of the heat for things not going according to plan for the Israelites.
The people grumbled against Moses because they didn’t have food and water, and they rebelled against what God said to them through Moses. The book of Numbers chronicles many of these incidents. One such incident went as follows:
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.
And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:10-12, NIV
Moses struck the rock when he’d been told by God to only speak to it so that water gushed forth. In his own frustration with the people, Moses acted out and didn’t follow God’s instructions. Moses was a leader, and with that position came great responsibility. The result was that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land, as Deuteronomy 3:23-28 said.
One act of disobedience had a far-reaching consequence for Moses. Your anger outburst may lead you to make a momentary decision that has lifelong consequences. When we recognize how far-reaching our momentary actions can be, that ought to make us a bit more circumspect with our anger.
Christian Counseling for Anger Management
In many other places in the Scriptures, we are told that the antidote for living a life controlled by anger is to yield ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to grow our capacity for patience, self-control, and forgiveness (Galatians 5, Ephesians 4).
Moses grew in self-control over time. One biblical proverb reminds us “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16: 32, ESV). Having control over ourselves is a mighty feat, but one that will preserve us from much anguish in life.
James, the Lord’s brother, said to believers, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20, NIV). These things are often easier said than done. You may need help from a Christian counselor to put these verses into practice.
If you struggle with anger, it’s worthwhile seeing your doctor or a mental health professional to rule out any possible underlying causes of anger such as stress, or a mood disorder such as depression. Getting a proper diagnosis helps you to deal with the real issue.
If anger is an issue in your life, you should seek the help of a Christian counselor who can help you address anger outbursts and provide you with effective tools to deal with stress. Anger can be dealt with proactively through cognitive restructuring and good sleep hygiene, and in the moment through relaxation and effective listening techniques.
A Christian counselor can also help you learn how to express anger constructively and rebuild relationships where necessary. Don’t let anger have a hold over your life. Seek help today through anger management counseling so that you can walk in the joy and peace that God desires for people.
“Anger”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Storm”, Courtesy of Michael Shannon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rocks”, Courtesy of Kyle Glenn, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Dark Clouds”, Courtesy of Jessica Delp, Unsplash.com, CC0 License