“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret,” observed Ambrose Bierce. Our anger can certainly lead us astray.
Remember what happened when a man known for his meekness became exasperated and angry with the children of Israel? In the heat of the moment he spoke — and regretted his words ever after. We read in the Psalms that: “They angered him also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips.” As a result, Moses died before Joshua led into the Promised Land the people he had faithfully shepherded for 40 years.
Moses in his own words tells us about it: “But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and would not hear me: and the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter. Get thee up into the top of Pisgah, and lift up thine eyes westward, and northward, and southward, and eastward, and behold it [the land of Israel] with thine eyes: for thou shalt not go over this Jordan.” Moses, the man privileged to speak with God “mouth to mouth,” had sinned so grievously that he was forbidden to enter the land and was to stop pleading with God about it. Instead, God allowed Moses to view the land from the top of a nearby mountain.
Moses was patiently self-controlled throughout most of his life, but in a moment of anger he sinned and lost the privilege of entering the Promised Land. His example is a warning to us. How often has our anger gotten out of hand and we have said or done something that we may regret for the rest of our lives?
Paul told the Ephesians, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” To the Colossians he wrote, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” We need to overcome our feelings of animosity or vengefulness towards others, humbly accept that God is guiding our lives, and strive to show forth a Christ-like attitude.
Lyman Abbot offers good advice when he suggests: “Do not teach your children never to be angry; teach them how to be angry.” Everyone get angry at times. We may not be able to prevent it, but there is a secret, which is to control our anger and not do anything in haste when angry. This advice is usually easier said than done. The old adage of counting to ten will help, and sometimes we should count to 100 or even 1000. Before lashing out, just walk away and try to get those angry feelings under control before risking speech or action. We tell children, “Do not hit; use your words”. However, our words need to be carefully chosen, as Moses learned. The Psalmist says: “In your anger do not sin, when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”
Often people who say or do wrong things when they are angry justify their actions by saying, “But I was angry,” as if it is okay because of their anger. The lesson of Moses teaches us that being angry does not make right anything we say. We are responsible for our words and actions even when angry. Solomon observes: “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
Is it a sin to become angry? No, it is not a sin to be angry, but it is wrong to commit sin when we are angry. Paul advises, “Be ye angry, and sin not”. The Psalmist tells us that “God is angry with the wicked every day”. Lot was vexed with the filthy conversation of the people in Sodom. Our anger may be justified, but that is not a license to sin.
It is what we do while we are angry that can be the problem. There are times when anger should spur us to action. Lot should have acted on his anger towards the corrupt men of Sodom by removing his family from that toxic environment. God was angry with Israel for their idolatry, and when they would not change in spite of many warnings from prophets, God removed them from the land. Jesus was angry with the moneychangers in the temple and he drove them out. A controlled, thoughtful, Christ-like response to anger is the right thing to do.
The problem is when anger spurs us to wrong action. Cain slew his brother Abel. Joseph’s brethren plotted to kill him. Moses spoke unadvisedly. Daniel’s enemies schemed to get him thrown to the lions. When we are provoked or treated unjustly, we are tempted to retaliate. We need to remember our Lord who opened not his mouth when reviled, and who asked God to forgive those who were crucifying him. Paul reminds us that vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He will repay.
When anger grabs us, we must let it go and turn it over to God. It is not good to nurse our anger. Paul advises, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,” which means we should not keep angry thoughts churning when we go to bed. As one philosopher observed: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
When we feel provoked, let us remember the words of Peter: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”
Robert J. Lloyd