I know you’ve been there before. The moment that came where you honestly cannot remember what happened or why you reacted the way you did. One minute you were calm and the next minute you flew off the handle. You were Mr. Hyde rather than Dr. Jekyll. Your temper flared and you flew into a rage. You became angry and full of wrath.
The Internal Struggle
For the most part, most of us are not constantly filled with wrath. If we could describe ourselves and our temperament, we’d probably compare ourselves to a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the late 1800s, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story about a mild mannered doctor who also has a violent personality. While for most of his life, Dr. Jekyll is able to control Mr. Hyde, his violent personality, he comes to a point where Mr. Hyde is no longer controllable. The rest of the story commences as you read about Dr. Jekyll’s struggle with Mr. Hyde.
The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a story that many of us share. Regardless of whether we are violent and angry often, we all struggle with anger and wrath. At this point, you might be asking, “what does he mean by ‘wrath’?” Wrath is anger, but it is also more than just anger. Wrath can be described as “sinful anger.”1 Anger is not necessarily a sinful action. In the Gospels, we see Jesus filled with anger when he flips over the money changers’ tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:14-26). Throughout the Old Testament, we see God filled with anger and wrath over the sin of the Israelites or the sin of the nations (e.g. Exodus 32; Amos 1-2). However, a difference does exist between sinful anger and righteous anger. The anger Jesus and God felt should be classified as righteous anger, anger that erupted over sin and evil. We would rightly admit that something is wrong with us if we were to not be angry at acts such as child abuse, domestic violence, abortion, sex trafficking, murder, racism, and other evils. These deserve righteous anger.
However, the Bible also mentions sinful anger, otherwise known as wrath. Proverbs 22:24-25 says this about anger: “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” Paul discusses anger, warning the Ephesians to “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). James seems to get at the heart of wrath when he writes, “What causes quarrels and what cause fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). James is reminding us that our wrath is deep below the surface. Our wrath is often “the offspring of inordinate, idolatrous desire.”2 While our desires might not be inherently sinful, when we seek them outside of God’s will and then become angry when others call us out on our desires, sinful wrath ensues.
I’m an Angry Person . . . What Now?
Identifying your sinful wrath is an incredibly helpful first step. Until you are aware of your anger, you will never be able to do anything about it.
In Hit List, Brian Hedges identifies three steps to help remedy wrath:
- Identify the Idols
Hedges writes, “First you need to discern the underlying idolatry of your heart. What are you angry about? What deep desire has been thwarted? What personal right (whether real or perceived) has been violated? How have your desires been crossed?”3 These are not easy questions. Any time we identify idols in our lives, we have to do some serious soul searching, and often that soul searching is painful. The Holy Spirit reveals in our hearts our idolatry and sin before a holy God. Still, until you identify your idols, you will never be able to remove wrath from your life.
- Refrain from Anger and Forsake Wrath
To refrain from anger and forsake wrath we must be repentant. We must recognize that a life of sinful anger and wrath is against the Lord and therefore is wrong. Our hearts should break over such anger in a way that causes to remove anger and wrath from our lives. Like all battles with sin, we need to look to the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Through the power of the Spirit, we can repent of our wrath and forsake it.
- Embrace a Life of Forgiveness
If anyone has a right to be angry, it is God. Interestingly enough, God is not. While he has righteous anger, he also loves us. He has loved us so much that he chose to forgive us while we were still in sin. He loved us so much, he sent his son Jesus for our salvation. If God can forgive us, surely we can forgive others. By remembering God’s forgiveness, we are able to set aside our wrath and live a life of forgiveness. Ultimately when we embrace a life of forgiveness, we will find a joy we could never find in our wrath.
1Brian G. Hedges, Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins (Minneapolis: Cruciform, 2014), 48.
Check out some of the other blogs in our "7 Deadly Sins" Series: