Is anger bad?

When most of us think about anger, we think about something negative. Doing a google search, the first thing you see is “controlling anger before it controls you.” Psychology Today’s page on anger, which was quite high on the google page list, has as the first description on their page:“Dealing with Anger: You know the feeling. It’s that rage you get when someone cuts you off on the highway; the one where you just want to floor it and flip the bird. Anger is a corrosive emotion that can run off with your mental and physical health. The conclusion one can make from a google search is that many people think anger is bad or at least in need of controlling.

If one looks at the Bible, one can conclude something similar – that anger is negative:

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (Col 3:8, NIV)

Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
    for anger resides in the lap of fools. (Eccl 7:9, NIV)

“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. . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Eph 4:26-27, 31, NIV)

At the same time, most Christians will argue that anger can’t be all bad; after all, Jesus got angry, as we can see from his clearing the temple (John 2:13-17). There must thus be something good about anger, and it is this search for the good in anger that is motivating our current study of anger and Jesus.

Although the negative side of anger comes up first on the Psychology Today website, there is also an acknowledgement of the good in anger, as illustrated by a short review by Ryan Martin, “How Pixar’s Inside Out Gets Anger Right:”

“Although Anger is usually shown as aggressive, there’s clear acknowledgement at a couple of points that anger is important and even useful. Anger is shown motivating Riley on the hockey rink, and the Anger character’s introduction at the beginning of the movie describes anger has making sure things are fair. It’s an important reminder that emotions don’t just drive our thoughts and behaviors, that they are useful and important… even the seemingly negative emotions like anger, fear, and disgust.”

Harriet Lerner, author of The Dance of Anger, talks about anger as being a signal of something else. In “The Seven Most Important Anger Questions to Ask Yourself,” she talks about how angry women are threatening to others and their/our own selves:

“If we are guilty, depressed, or self-doubting, we stay in place. We do not take action except against our own selves and we are unlikely to be agents of personal and social change. In contrast, angry women may change and challenge the lives of us all, as witnessed by the past decades of feminism. And change is an anxiety-arousing and difficult business for everyone, including those of us who are actively pushing for it. Thus, we too learn to fear our own anger, not only because it brings about the disapproval of others, but also because it signals the necessity for change.. . .

There is something powerful about anger, and Christians would do well to understand it better: guard ourselves from allowing it to lead to wrong actions but also finding a way for it to motivate and push us to care about justice and what is good.