We all know what it is like to be angry, don’t we?
The emotion of anger is as common to humanity as sadness, love, and happiness. From the day we were born, we never had to be taught how to express our anger — it just came out. Even if you do not consider yourself to be an “angry person,” everyone experiences anger at times.
In fact, we learn in the Bible that Jesus even felt anger! For example, in John 2 we see a side of Jesus that makes us a little uncomfortable because he had so much zeal for the house of God that he made a whip out of some cords to drive out a bunch of animals and the people selling them in the temple. Then he flipped over their tables and spilled their money out on the floor.
The word “zeal” here means anywhere from excitement to fierceness and indignation. Considering how his zeal “consumed” him, I think we can say that he was a little more on the “angry” side than just “excited.”
Later in John 11, we read about Jesus’ reaction to the death of his friend, Lazarus. While the passage does not say that Jesus was angry necessarily, we do see that he was grieving so intensely that He (God in the flesh) actually wept.
The phrases used to describe Jesus’ grief in this passage depict a sense of great pain, deep movement, spiritual groaning, and emotional anguish that the Vine's Expository Dictionary illustrates as a horse “snorting with anger.”
So, while the emotion of anger is a natural response and even seen in Jesus himself, it means that it is not a sin by itself. This leads us to a question that many Christians wonder about: Is it wrong to be angry with God?
To frame the answer to that question, we need to understand three realities about the emotion of anger which will provide insight into whether or not it is wrong to be angry with God.
1. Our Anger Is a Window into Our Soul
When we respond to a situation with anger, it shines a light on what we value and consider as right and wrong. On the other hand, if something does not produce any feelings of anger, we can conclude that it is not something we value that much.
When a situation turns out differently than we think it should have been, it naturally causes emotional friction in us that comes out as frustration, disappointment, annoyance, and anger. A child will get mad because he thought he should have gotten dessert.
A teenager will get mad if she thinks her friend is treating her unfairly. An adult will get mad if someone or something they love is taken from them. In the example from John 2 earlier, Jesus felt angry because he had a high value of God’s house and knew that what was happening was wrong.
So, if we find ourselves being angry with God, it reveals that we think God was unfair or did something wrong to us.
The best example of this is King David in 2 Samuel 6 when one of his men named Uzzah was killed by God because he touched the Ark of the Covenant to try to steady it when the oxen that were carrying it stumbled.
As a result, David was not only unjustly upset with God, but it drove him to an unhelpful fear of God’s wrath resulting in missing out on God’s presence and blessing in Jerusalem for three months.
We can also read some of David’s laments to God in the Book of Psalms, such as when he cries out, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me?” (Psalm 13:1-6). David wrongfully assumed that God had left or forgotten him, resulting in anger against him.
So, if we are angry with God, we need to honestly ask ourselves what beliefs we have about God that are unscriptural, untrue, and unhelpful.
2. What We Do with Our Anger Is More Important Than Feeling It
While our anger might be a more subconscious emotional response, how we consciously react determines whether or not it is sin. That is why Paul told the believers in Ephesus to “be angry and do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26).
We all know that nothing good comes from anger (or any emotion) that is either uncontrolled or left bottled up. That is why parents teach their children how to calm themselves and deal with their anger in healthy ways.
That is also why James instructs us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Because it is not our anger itself that hurts others, it is how we react to the feeling with our words, attitudes, and actions.
In Numbers 20, Moses was so irate with the Hebrews for their rebellion and lack of faith that he acted out by striking a rock twice that God had only told him to tap. Interestingly, although Moses’ anger-fueled disobedience was still effective in producing water from the rock.
God punished Moses for his sinful action by declaring, “...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 20:12).
So, even if our anger against God is wrongly placed, it only becomes sin when we react in a way that is sinful — by cursing God, by becoming bitter, by straying in our relationship with him, by hurting others, or by simply walking in disobedience.
This leads to the final reality of our anger.
3. A Mature Believer Will Not Stay Angry
Instead of reacting in their anger in a way that is sinful, a mature person will consider why they are angry and will work to bridle, control, and even let go of their anger. To be serious, aggressive, and driven are all appropriate and effective at times, but acting in or being controlled by our anger will not produce healthy results. James even says that “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God…” (James 1:20).
Paul goes as far as to say that if we are angry with a brother or sister in Christ that “...now is the time to get rid of anger… and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:8-13).
So, if we are angry with God, how much more should we find the root cause in our heart and let it go. I do not think that God is upset with us when we are angry with him; I think he is sympathetic and merciful.
When my own children get angry with me, I want to know how they feel — not so I can reprimand them — but so, in my pity, I can help them understand why I made the decision that I did and to know that I love them.
How much more would God, our Heavenly Father, show mercy to us! In an answer to a similar question, John Piper stated that hiding our anger from an all-knowing God instead of just honestly confessing it only makes matters worse. Because then our hypocrisy and deceit will build up bitterness instead of resulting in repentance, surrender, and ultimately worship.
In the lamenting Psalms where David seems to be frustrated or even upset with God, he always ends up responding with praise and thankfulness instead of bitterness. For example, in Psalm 13:5-6 we read, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” Or in Psalm 42 after introspectively asking himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me,” David responds with "Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
What changed in David’s heart? Not only did he let go of his feelings of anger against God but let go of his beliefs about God that were unhelpful, unscriptural, untrue, and wrongly placed. Instead, he confessed a common phrase in Scripture that God is “merciful and gracious… slow to anger... and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Exodus 34:6; Number 14:18; Nehemiah 9:17).
What Does This Mean?
So, while we may not be sinning when we feel anger against God, we must use the emotion to drive us to look into our souls to discover a wrong belief, to surrender it to God, and then to turn and give God praise for how he is always good and what he does is always right, for his glory, and for our good. Let our anger drive us to a deeper love.
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Robert Hampshire is the Lead Pastor of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and now lead pastor. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Pastoring a Village: Sermons, Thoughts, Devos. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.