When we think about people who have an “anger” problem, we often think of people who lose their temper in dramatic fashion, going red in the face and hurling abuse at people. But even those who outwardly seem never to lose control can still struggle with anger, seething with rage privately while fantasising about the downfall of whoever upset us.
In Esther 5:9 we see Haman in high spirits. Everything is going well for him at this point in the story. Yet when Mordecai insults him by refusing to bow down, his mood completely changes. Now he is furious, and can think of nothing but how to destroy Mordecai.
Haman is an example of how easy it is to let a perceived wrong rob us of our joy and consume us with anger. Rather than simply overlooking and forgiving an offense, we dwell on it, which quickly leads us to an ungodly desire for revenge. Without suggesting that anger itself is a sin, James warns us that anger very often leads to sin:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
Anger often reveals a self-idolatry. We are very quick to become indignant when other people treat us badly, while we expect them to be understanding and patient if we cause offence to them.
When we are angry, it is very hard for us to look objectively at the situation and acknowledge that we have no right to be angry. Jonah’s brutally honest response to God is a case in point:
But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said (Jonah 4:9)
Even more ironic though, is the juxtaposition of Jonah 4:1,2. We are told that Jonah is angry. Why is he angry? Because he knows that God is “slow to anger”. He’s angry that God’s not angry!
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:1,2
Whether we are people who explode with anger or bottle it up, we need to recognise that being conformed more into the image of Christ means being people who are slow to anger. Be quick to overlook offences against you. Give others the benefit of the doubt. See things from their point of view. Forgive. Don’t let someone else’s mistake rob you of your joy.