Homework for the angry

I guess nouthetic counselors aren't the only ones giving homework for people who struggle with anger these days. If God's solutions seem too shallow, consider these "life-changing" options I found on an anger management website (my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek):

  • Say, “I’m going to scream.” Then do it. Make angry sounds but eliminate words that might hurt others.
  • Shake your whole body, starting with your feet and work up to your head.
  • Do an angry dance.
  • Play angry notes on the piano.
  • Pull weeds with vigor saying “I’m so mad!” with each pull.
  • Throw marshmallows into the sink and yell a karate type yell as you throw them.

C.S. Lewis, who was a master at describing human sinfulness—specifically anger—said this in his book Mere Christianity:

Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is? ...If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.

The reason the world's ideas for battling anger are insufficient is because the world fails to recognize the source of anger. It is a lot easier to blame your sin on stress or the provocation of your enemy (or your spouse) than it is to confess that you want something more than you want to please God. The epistle of James makes the source of anger very clear:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world's hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)

When is the last time you heard a sermon about worldliness that emphasized anger? The reason James connected friendship with the world to quarrels and conflicts is because both spring from a lust for pleasure. Both are spiritual adultery. Both are an internal form of idolatry.

There are things you want so badly you are willing to sin in order to get them. There are things you want so badly that you become angry if you are denied. As soon as you start answering questions like, "what do I want the very most?" you start identifying the source of your anger. Consider some biblical ways to conquer sinful anger:
Recognize it as an idol in your life. What do you do with idols? You tear them down. You replace them. You don't hide them in the closet in case you need them. Notice the "put off" and the "put on" instructions Paul gave the Ephesian church (Ephesians 4:31-32):

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Homework: Write down five times in the next week when you are tempted to become angry but choose instead to respond with a kind act of service.

Use the energy of anger to attack problems. We are good at using anger's energy to attack others. That does not necessarily mean that all of us blow up when we are angry. Some of us are very good at using calm innuendo to express our displeasure and torture others. Whether you clam up or blow up, you are giving evidence of bitterness in your heart. Remember: anger itself is not sinful. Holding on to anger, "letting the sun go down on your wrath," is what displeases God.

Homework: Make a list of the top five situations where you often find yourself getting angry. Identify each of these situations that are being caused because you have failed to seek a solution to the problem. Write down the way you are determined to respond that next time the problem arises.

Make sure your greatest delight is in God and what he has given you. Go all the way back to the Garden of Eden and consider what was Adam's greatest delight. He had nothing in this world but God himself and what God had given him. He was okay with that. Worship was pure and uninterrupted. Everything was great until Adam found a substitute pleasure for God and what God had given him. If you are battling your anger, you are also battling the object of your worship. I regularly assign counselees who are struggling with anger to evaluate texts of Scripture like Psalm 16. People who find pleasure in the things David describes in this Psalm cannot become sinfully angry.
Homework: Write down episodes when you had an angry outburst. What were you thinking? What were you wanting? What were you worshiping?


  1. What do you think about frustration? Is that similiar to anger or is it a whole different category? It seems to me that both are reactions to unfavorable situations with the key difference being that anger can be used as energy to solve problems (as you pointed out) whereas frustation does not seem to be of much use at all.

  2. It is very important to put human thinking and behavior in biblical terms. I think "frustrated" actually means "thwarted" or "stopped in your tracks" (see its use in the NIV). Most of us use it as a euphemism for sinful anger. As someone who used to think he had the unrighteous anger thing kicked by saying, "I'm not mad, I'm just frustrated," I fell into the category of one who says, "I wasn't exactly stealing, only borrowing without permission."


What do you think?