When is Being Angry OK?

When Shaul (that nice Jewish tentmaker from Tarsus) wrote his letter to the congregation of Believers in Ephesus, he told them that they should never sin in their anger (Ephesians 4:26), which means it is not a sin to be angry, but when we are angry we must not sin.

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That sounds a little convoluted, and the way I interpret it is that we are allowed to be angry if the reasons are justifiable. And even though we may be justifiably angry, that doesn’t allow us to do or say something sinful while in the heat of our emotional stress.

For example, Yeshua was unquestionably pissed-off at the people in the Temple who were charging exorbitant fees for money exchange and selling sacrificial animals that were not eligible to be sacrificed. His anger was intense and totally justified, although I would question if what he did was as justified. Overturning their tables and using a whip may fall into that grey area known as a “maybe-but-maybe-not-sinful” thing.

Today’s discussion, however, isn’t about what Yeshua did then, but about what we do when we get angry.

In my personal case, the one thing that gets under my skin faster than almost anything else is when I hit a bad golf shot. Especially if I am having a good game. I have tried to remember that it is, after all, only a game but I can’t stand doing less than I know I am capable of doing.

And I often fail to observe Shaul’s warning, finding myself hitting the ground, stomping my feet, and occasionally trying to outdistance the ball with my club. Oh, yes, while I am confessing, I should also mention that too often at that time I channel my past military language, using words that could melt the backing off of a mirror.

I think that is a good example of sinning in one’s anger, and I do apologize to my golf buddies who are very quick to accept my apology.

For an example of my being really angry but not sinning, I recently had a lot of trouble with a national carpeting company (who shall remain nameless but you might recognize them if you watched the second Star Wars movie, Episode 5) who promised delivery and installation but failed to do so three times in a row. We had to empty both my wife’s office and mine, so there were books, computers, desk drawers, pretty much everything in the rooms spewed all over the dining room floor and half the living room in preparation for their coming, which didn’t get completed until after 6 days. After the first failure to install when they said they would, they upgraded us to a better carpet (which was in stock) but when that came they didn’t deliver enough for both rooms. I had to keep calling their dispatcher and when I talked with him I was very vocal (that means loud and angry) but I didn’t curse and I didn’t say anything to insult him or his company. I did say I didn’t like the way they did business and insisted on more discounts or I would cancel. In fact, I threatened to cancel numerous times (and meant it) but we were really stuck since the biggest problem was not being able to use our offices and no other carpet company would be able to do an install for at least 2-3 weeks. Finally, after 6 days they managed to get enough carpet to do both rooms.

In case you’re interested, the installation crews were very friendly and professional, and the new carpet looks great.

These two examples show the difference between sinning in my anger, and not sinning. Golf gets me to backslide in a heartbeat (but I am getting better) and incompetence makes me angry, but not where I end up sinning over it. The question remains about which of these examples, if either, justified my becoming angry?

I would say (and I should know because I picked these two examples, myself) that getting angry over a bad golf shot is unjustifiable. Why? Because it is the result of my pridefulness, and there is no other reason to be angry. And what is worse is that I usually end up making up for a bad shot or a bad hole later on in the game, so 99% of the time I am still shooting my normal score. The anger is totally unjustified and sinful because it is initiated by sin -the sin of pridefulness.

Now, with the carpet incident, my anger was justified because I was misled, the people I am paying to do a job were being incompetent and inattentive, and they were causing both myself and my wife a lot of inconveniences. I believe that because that anger was not caused by my sin but was justified, I was able to express my anger without sinning.

You know, maybe that is the answer to the question: it is OK to be angry when the cause of your anger is not generated by your own sin.

If something makes you angry, the first thing to do is ask yourself why you are angry. If you are angry because someone has sinned against you (or God), then your anger is justified; that doesn’t mean you can sin back, but because the sin is not yours, you should be able to express your anger without sinning.

On the other hand, if you are angry because someone did something that you didn’t want them to do, and your pride is hurt, then the anger comes from your sin and automatically you have sinned in your anger. Even if what they did was wrong, if you’re angry because of your pride (which I believe is the mother of all sins), then even if you withhold your tongue and act calmly, you still have sinned in your anger.

I think that is the key: when Shaul said to not sin in our anger, maybe he meant that when we are angry we must be angry for reasons that are not sinful. In other words, it isn’t the anger itself that is the issue, but why we are angry. If we are angry for sinful reasons, then we have sinned in our anger, but if we are angry for a reason that is not based on our sinfulness, then that anger is OK.

As we close this discussion, let me repeat -just for the record- that even if your anger is justified you still aren’t allowed to do anything that is sinful when you express your anger.

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