Today we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness, and how forgiveness can be a beacon of life that overcomes anger. But in order for us to understand about forgiveness overcoming anger, we will need to look a little closer at how the Bible represents anger in its various forms.
Yeshua stated it this way:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:21-22
Believers should not call someone a fool or an idiot or be unrighteously angry with anyone. According to Yeshua, the damage caused by emotional outbursts of anger is equivalent to taking the life of an individual. Anger breeds an environment of death.
For example, this principle of anger breeding an environment of death is exemplified by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in the time of Daniel.
Daniel 2:10-12 The Chaldeans answered the king, “No one on earth can make known what the king requests. Consequently, no king, however great and powerful, has ever asked anything like this of any magician, medium, or Chaldean. “What the king is asking is so difficult that no one can make it known to him except the gods, whose dwelling is not with mortals.” Because of this, the king became violently angry and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.
Proverbs 29:22 An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered one increases rebellion.
Have you ever known a hot-tempered individual to be considered a level-headed peacemaker? Of course not. Anger is not the way of building bridges between dissenting opinions, but a way of squashing all opposition, or in aggressively attempting to sway others to a particular point of view or call to action to harm others.
In an Old Testament instance of this, a robbery by some rogue Israelite tribal members caused a conflict. A man named Micah went shouting and chasing after some of the men of the tribe of Dan after the Danites had stolen some of his belongings.
Judges 18:23-25 [Micah’s men] were shouting as they caught up with them [the Danites]. The men of Dan turned around and said to Micah, “What’s the matter? Why have you called these men together and chased after us like this?” “What do you mean, ‘What’s the matter?'” Micah replied. “You’ve taken away all the gods I have made, and my priest, and I have nothing left!” The men of Dan said, “Watch what you say! There are some short-tempered men around here who might get angry and kill you and your family.”
This is typically the result of short-tempered individuals; further damage and harm ensues.
Another consideration regarding angry words is that what is said is an unfiltered version of what is really in a person’s heart. According to Yeshua, the words we speak always come from the overflow of the heart.
Luke 6:45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
If we are harboring anger towards another individual in our heart, there is a fair likelihood that anger will be expressed, and not in a pretty fashion.
It is for these reasons that Yeshua equates anger with murder; the damage done can have long-lasting consequences that may not have been fully intended. Once that damage is done, trying to restore that relationship can seem as daunting as trying to resuscitate an individual who has been murdered by your words.
The good news is, God is in the life-giving business. To overcome the error of “killing” someone with our anger, Yeshua encourages the opposite to anger: forgiveness. Now I know that, at first blush, forgiveness may not sound like anger’s opposite; perhaps something like peace might be more fitting. But when you boil it down to essentials, peace is really based on forgiveness. Forgiveness can heal breaches in trust or the wounds of anger and resentment. Forgiveness is a creator of peace. Where anger breeds death, forgiveness breeds life.
Let’s look at some illustrations of this. When Joab tried to convince David to receive his son Absalom back whom he had banished, Joab creates a ruse with a woman to appear before the king and plead for his intent. In the speech that Joab provided her, she reveals a truth about the nature of God and forgiveness.
2 Samuel 14:14 For we must die, and are as water spilled on the ground, which can’t be gathered up again; neither does God take away life, but devises means, that he who is banished not be an outcast from him.
In this speech, the opposite of taking away life is forgiveness and restoration. This is the same principle that the apostle Paul uses in conveying the new life that believers have in Messiah, because God has forgiven us.
Colossians 2:13 And you being dead in the trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…
You see, if we were dead in our rebellious state, then God made us alive through forgiving us. Forgiveness breeds life, and our very forgiven status in the estimation of God proves it. If you have received forgiveness from God and are experiencing new life in Messiah, you should very clearly understand this principle.
Now, while all of this sounds very noble and worthy of our effort, we must also consider another aspect of anger that can be troubling if we haven’t previously considered it. What about instances when God is shown to have demonstrated anger? If God has gotten angry, why should he expect that we don’t get angry? Is he expecting that we have more emotional control than he does?
It’s a valid question and one that deserves a little further investigation. Here is an example, when Moses is arguing with God as to why he doesn’t feel that he is a good fit for this whole prophet thing that God is commanding him to do with Pharaoh.
Exodus 4:10-15 But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” Then the LORD asked Moses, “Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.” Then the LORD became angry with Moses. “All right,” he said. “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do.
This is actually the first instance in the Bible where we see God getting angry, or at least the first representation of his anger. Here are some other examples to illustrate this further.
Numbers 11:1 The people were complaining in the ears of Yahweh. When Yahweh heard it, his anger burned; and Yahweh’s fire burned among them, and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.
Numbers 11:4 The mixed multitude that was among them lusted exceedingly; and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now we have lost our appetite. There is nothing at all except this manna to look at.”… 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent; and Yahweh’s anger burned greatly; and Moses was displeased.
Numbers 12:1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman. 2 They said, “Has Yahweh indeed spoken only with Moses? Hasn’t he spoken also with us?” And Yahweh heard it. … 8 [Yahweh speaking] With him [Moses], I will speak mouth to mouth, even plainly, and not in riddles; and he shall see Yahweh’s form. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?” 9 Yahweh’s anger burned against them; and he departed.
Numbers 25:1 Israel stayed in Shittim; and the people began to play the prostitute with the daughters of Moab; 2 for they called the people to the sacrifices of their gods. The people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 Israel joined himself to Baal Peor, and Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel. 4 Yahweh said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and hang them up to Yahweh before the sun, that the fierce anger of Yahweh may turn away from Israel.”
Numbers 32:10 Yahweh’s anger burned in that day, and he swore, saying, 11 ‘Surely none of the men who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me, 12 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite, and Joshua the son of Nun, because they have followed Yahweh completely.’ 13 Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel, and he made them wander back and forth in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation who had done evil in Yahweh’s sight was consumed.
The language used in these passages reveals a few things. First, if we were to translate the phrase as it stands literally, it is a description of someone’s face becoming heated or burning to where their nostrils flare or they breathe heavily. Of course, this is a depiction of what we would call the emotion of anger. As this relates to God, it is as though the biblical writers are using the only words they have to describe the displeasure of God in these instances.
Does God have a face that actually gets hot, or nostrils that flare while he breathes heavily in frustration and anger? These would be what we would call anthropomorphisms: attributing human characteristics to God. This is simply because we, in our limited sense, cannot conceive of it in any other way, so we project onto God the characteristics we ourselves exhibit in similar situations.
Interestingly most of these occurrences are in the book of Numbers. So either the people were extra-rebellious or the writer of the book of Numbers chose to use that phrase repeatedly to express God’s displeasure.
Okay, but doesn’t the text still imply that God is getting angry? Of course, but we need to consider this: what is God getting angry about in each instance? Isn’t it basically disobedience to his revealed will?
Look at the examples again: Moses didn’t want to go to Pharaoh; the people were complaining about the provision of manna as a sole food source; Miriam and Aaron were rebelling against God’s choice of Moses; the people were submitting to idolatry instead of following God; the people rebelled against God’s plan to conquer the land of Canaan, etc.
God had every right to express anger because of disobedience to, or dissatisfaction with, his revealed will. This is a justifiable reason for his anger because, well, he is God, and his purpose and will is supreme.
In a similar way, when we get angry, it is typically because something isn’t happening according to our will; something isn’t going the way we want, or someone isn’t doing what we want them to do. However, the difference between our anger and God’s is that our understanding of a situation is limited by our own perceptions; God’s understanding is perfect and not limited in any way.
When God is expressing anger at disobedience to his will he knows it is absolute and final because he knows all things about all people. When things don’t go our way, there may be a number of reasons why this is the case, and we can, and often do, easily assign the wrong motive or cause because of our limited perception. This causes us many times to be angry for the wrong reasons, whether due to emotional instability or incomplete information, but by then the damage is done.
This is why God has a right to command us to not get angry with others, not because we are supposed to somehow be more in control of our emotions than he is. It is simply because we are rarely angry for the correct reason, in the right amount, with the right individual. God’s perception and perspective is always perfect and justified. Our perceptions skew reality to our own misunderstandings of a particular situation. Anger is usually a demonstration of our own unfiltered, and typically unjustified, opinion. Therefore, God commands us to provide grace for the things we don’t know and for the situations we may not have full knowledge of.
For example, a popular story by Valerie Cox called The Cookie Thief illustrates this point rather well.
A woman was waiting at an airport one night, with several long hours before her flight. She hunted for a book in the airport shops, bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop. She was engrossed in her book but happened to see, that the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be. . .grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between, which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene. So she munched the cookies and watched the clock, as the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock. She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by, thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”With each cookie she took, he took one too, when only one was left, she wondered what he would do. With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half. He offered her half, as he ate the other, she snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother. This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude, why he didn’t even show any gratitude! She had never known when she had been so galled, and sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate, refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate. She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat, then she sought her book, which was almost complete. As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise, there was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes. If mine are here, she moaned in despair, the others were his, and he tried to share. Too late to apologize, she realized with grief, that she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.
For the woman in the story, her struggle was internal, and yet she still felt awful about her misconception over the whole incident. However, when we actually lash out at others, we reveal the weakness of our own character. Raw emotion can cause division because it is typically not based on the truth, but only on a perception of what one believes to be true. The reality of a situation may be significantly different.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry, for anger abides in the heart of fools.
Even though God may be completely justified in his anger, he still does not rush in emotionally frantic because someone disobeyed his will. In proclaiming his character to Moses, he relates how his anger, although justifiable, is still not instantaneous:
Exodus 34:6 Yahweh passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh – Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth,
Even though Israel time after time rejected God and chose their own ways, God was slow to anger, as Nehemiah relates.
Nehemiah 9:16 “But they and our fathers behaved proudly, hardened their neck, didn’t listen to your commandments, 17 and refused to obey. They weren’t mindful of your wonders that you did among them, but hardened their neck, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage. But you are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and didn’t forsake them.
Numbers 14:18 “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, forgiving iniquity and rebellion. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generation.
God’s anger and his justice are tied at the hip. We saw this in all those passages in Numbers where God is described as being angry. The results of that anger were typically a measure of justice or discipline.
When the people complained about only having manna to eat, a fire burned in the outskirts of the camp, consuming them. When Miriam complained about God only speaking through Moses, she was disciplined with temporary leprosy. When the Israelites succumbed to idolatry, their leaders were hanged. When the people refused to take the land he had given them, he forced them to wander in the desert for forty years.
When he is meting out deserved punishment, his justice can appear as anger. But when the truth of a situation is known from his perspective, it can be recognized as being a natural outworking of consequences based on unfaithful actions.
If God, who knows all things about all people at all times, is considered slow to anger, should we not then also take even longer to become angry, knowing that we are extremely limited in our understanding of others and their motives? This is why Yeshua cautions us against judging others, because our standards are likely unjust, and God will then be justified in using our own standards against us.
If anger fosters death, then as we have seen, forgiveness fosters life. What anger kills, forgiveness resuscitates. Angry words designed to hurt are rendered powerless through the life generated by forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Meting out forgiveness seventy-seven times in one day is an obvious hyperbolic emphasis by Yeshua to illustrate that the stores of forgiveness available to us are bountiful enough to outlast and overcome any personal infraction.
Ephesians 4:26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,
Anger is a real emotion that conveys real intensity of thought and principle to bear in a situation. Anger itself is a creation of God. But the caution for us is if we are choosing to express anger, we are to do so without sin. That is a very fine line, and one that is not typically identified or heeded in a heated passionate outburst.
Even if we are justifiably angry, we are encouraged to resolve that conflict before the start of a new day. There should not be bitterness and unresolved conflict over days, weeks, months, or God forbid, years. I have seen that level of unrelenting anger in my own experiences growing up, and nothing good ever came of that level of unforgiveness and anger over past situations. If we are to be justifiably angry, it should not last longer than a day. Beyond that, we are entering into a realm of ongoing conflict, rebellion, and death.
Numbers 14:18 “Yahweh is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, forgiving iniquity and rebellion.
If we are to mimic our heavenly Father in all things, then we should likewise be slow to anger, but abounding in faithful love and forgiveness. This is the root of life that can overcome the state of death present in our petty anger and hostility.
Life can always overcome death. Choose life.
Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that when we express anger, we are treading in areas of potential death and destruction in the lives of others. Although we may feel justified, we are rarely angry at the right time, in the right amount, and with the right individual. Instead, we should choose to foster life and restoration through forgiveness. This is the true path to being the peacemaker that Yeshua enjoins us to be.