Page last updated



How to Deal with Anger
John 2:13-22,
Frank Schaefer

Think about one thing you have been angry about (yourself, others, circumstances God). No worry, I won’t ask you to share it.

Many of us feel guilty about having been angry. Anger is something that can stand between people and us, and it can be between God and us.

Amazingly, however, the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4.25: "Be angry but do not sin. 'Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." So, apparently it must be possible to be angry, but not to have sin because of the anger.

How does the story of Jesus getting angry and clearing the temple make you feel? It makes me feel uncomfortable. This is perhaps the closest Jesus ever got to sinning. He made a whip, drove out animals, turned over moneychanger’s tables. . . .

If you were a temple merchant, would you not think that this was an act of violence? Temple merchants provided the Jews that travelled from all parts of the world (Jews were of many different nationalities) with the things necessary for sacrifice that they couldn’t take with them on a long journey.

Let’s look at why Jesus was angry though: people came to be reconciled to God, to find righteousness in the eyes of God. And the first thing they encounter in the themple--the one house of God where they could find atonement--is unrigheous behavior. They got cheated. The sacrificial animals were overpriced, the currency exchange was unfair. People were taken advantage of.

When I did my CPE unit in a mental hospital I learned that anger is really a secondary emotion which is pushed “up” by a primary emotion--often a spiritual concern or a spiritual need. It’s almost like the metaphor of an iceberg. As we know, only the tip--about 10%--of the iceberg is visible above the surface. About 90% of an iceberg is under the water surface. It’s similar with our emotions. What is being pushed up is not necessarily all that is behind it. Anger is a natural human response, and sometimes we even have anger toward God.

So what was Jesus primary emotion that pushed up that anger? I’d like to think that it was his sense of righteousness which was being violated. And so, Jesus was cleansing the temple from gross displays of sin and injustice. And since there was nothing in the laws of Moses or in the temple instructions about the right of businesses to be there in the first place, Jesus’ “policing action” couldn’t even be opposed by the Scribes or temple authorities. He was in the right and they knew it.

But how does that help us to deal with our anger? I think we need to understand why we are angry. I said earlier that anger is just a secondary emotion being pushed up by a spiritual concern or need. If this is true then we need to dig deeper whenever we respond with anger. We need to analyse our anger and open up to God to help show us the spiritual need underneath.

Say for instance, if we expressed . . . anger at the state of the world: wars, famines, earthquakes, or a situation in your own life . . . our spiritual issue may be a feeling of helplessness. We may feel that God is not acting on his children’s behalf--on our behalf. We may at a point where we ask questions like: God where were you when this or that happened in my life? We may also feel very lonely, because God seems so far away.

Maybe we express anger at others. Perhaps it bothers us when others break the rules (e.g. they don’t come dressed up for church), and through digging deeper we may realize it is an unhealthy sense of responsibility we are burdened with or perhaps we are burdened with an unhealthy measure of perfectionism. Perhaps we were always expected to be perfect. Perhaps we were not accepted for who we are and are working our butts off to gain acceptance from others. Maybe we need to realize that we need to accept ourselves the way our Creator made us.

These are but a few of many possible scenarios. And of course, sometimes anger is just anger, especially if someone attacks us or offends us. However, if there is recurring anger in your life, and you “explode” at every little incident that comes your way, I would like to invite you to try to identify the spiritual concern or need that lies underneath this emotion.

God sees past our anger. God knows why we’re angry. He looks at us--even when we’re expressing our anger at Him--and he sees our spiritual needs. And he is saying to all of us: “I want to fulfill your spiritual needs. I want to share my awesome love with you. I want to reveal my awesome plans for you, and I want to be your God and I want you to be my child. I love you so much that it hurts. I sent my son Jesus to die for you, yes for you. And if you had been the only person ever living--I would have sent my son to die just for you. That’s how great my love is for you. I knew you even before you were conceived in your mothers womb. I made you. I want you to exist. I know you in and out. And I accept you the way you are. Even if you are damaged by sin and by the stuff that’s going on in this world. Don’t let your anger stand between you and me nor between you and another. Open your heart for today I want to enter into your life in new ways. Open your heart, my child, that I may enter in.” Amen.