Best of Daily Reflections: How Can I Avoid Sin When I Am Angry?
"In your anger do not sin." Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
The What, How, and Why of Anger: Part 3
Ephesians 4:26 says, "In your anger do not sin." If you're like me, you recognize the wisdom of this injunction from your own experience. You can remember times, maybe as recent as this morning, when your anger motivated you to do or say something wrong. Yes, you were angry and you did sin. Perhaps in your anger you did or said something that was hurtful to another person, maybe someone you love deeply, like a spouse or a child. So, when you read, "In your anger do not sin," your soul cries out, "Yes. That's fine. But how? How can I avoid sin when I'm angry?"
One answer to this question can be found in the second half of Ephesians 4:26: "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." This piece of advice, which is similar to wisdom found among Greek philosophers as well as some ancient Jewish groups, makes the point that anger should not be stored up. When we hang on tightly to anger, it easily turns to bitterness or vengefulness. Hoarded anger makes us more apt to sin. So, one way or another, our feelings of anger need to be dissipated.
How does this happen? I know from personal experience some things that don't work. Denial and pretending don't work. Yelling and screaming don't work. What does seem to work, at least at the beginning, is acknowledgement of anger. If we can say to ourselves, "I am really angry about this. I want to punch that guy in the nose," this puts our inner selves on the table for examination. Openness allows us to think about our anger rather than letting it have hidden power over us. It enables us to begin to deal with our anger rather than trying to ignore it and letting it lead us into sin.
Perhaps more importantly, acknowledging our anger allows us to share it with God. The Psalms are filled with honest expressions of deep emotions, even anger directed at the Lord himself. These ancient poems and hymns encourage us to share with God what's really going on in our hearts. Thus, when you're feeling angry, tell God about it. Be honest. Offering your anger to the Lord is a first step to letting go of it so it doesn't lead you into sin.
Yet there is more, I believe, that can help us not cling to our anger or give it the power to motivate us to do what's wrong. I'll get into this later. For now, prayerfully consider the following questions.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What helps you to keep from sinning when you're angry? What has helped you to avoid storing up anger? Do you have anger in your heart today that you need to admit to yourself and to the Lord? Are you willing to do so?
PRAYER: Gracious God, I do not want to sin when I'm angry. Frankly, Lord, as you know, I'd rather not be angry at all. But I can't escape this quality of my humanness. I can ask for your help, though, to keep me from sinning when I'm angry.
In particular, I ask that you'll help me to be honest with myself and with you when I'm upset. May I be able to tell you the truth so that I might be open to your help. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. If you're wondering about the meaning of the holy day and how some Christians keep it, you might find helpful a short piece I've writing on the subject: Ash Wednesday: Meaning and Practice. Also, I've written a short introduction to Lent: How Lent Can Make a Difference in Your Relationship with God.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast.
Show Me the Way
Seeking advice for the road ahead is a practice as old as people. How we do it may look different from one generation to the next, but all of us want what wisdom has to offer. Our series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, addresses this topic from various angles. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.