Unless you’re dead (or a big fat liar), you get angry. Don’t worry—it’s a perfectly reasonable emotion. We don’t do wrong by getting angry; it’s just that when we’re angry, we often do wrong. Paul expresses as much in his letter to the Ephesians, “In your anger, do not sin.” (Eph. 4:26)
But when we give shelter to anger, when we nurse and indulge it, when we give it a long lead, it becomes wrath.
Where envy resents when someone else does well, wrath is hellbent on ensuring that its object suffers loss. And it isn’t always through physical violence—it can be a desire to see someone lose face and suffer humiliation.
Here are some steps to help overcome the sin of wrath.
1. Watch your entertainment
I’m not typically the type that associates bad actions to entertainment choices. I don’t believe that playing video games or watching certain kinds of movies makes anyone anything. But I find that I am growing more and more sensitive in this area (and I’m not the only one. My friend Micah J. Murray wrote a great post on this very topic for Convergent Books: Why I Stopped Playing Violent Video Games.)
It’s always struck me that American Christians refuse to let their children experience the slightest whiff of sexuality in movies and television shows, but they don’t share the same discomfort with violence. What’s particularly interesting to me is that sexuality is a completely natural expression of our humanity as people created in the image of God—and violence is not.
While I understand that not all sexuality is as God intended, some of it is. But I can’t say the same about violence; violence is a completely unnatural symptom of our diabolic, self-centered tendencies. So why are we as a culture so comfortable with it?
We Americans love a good action flick, and our favorite sort is the genuinely good person pushed too far and forced to smack down terrible people. Whether it’s The Patriot, Gladiator, Taken, or Braveheart, we have embraced the mythology of redemptive violence.
My concern isn’t that this fare makes us violence. I am concerned that it makes us comfortable with the idea that certain people deserve pain, hardship, and misfortune. We may never have to rescue our daughters from an international kidnapping ring, but we are going to suffer indignities and unjust treatment. I don’t want to contribute to the idea that I can harbor the kind of resentment that comes out in little ways—passive-aggressive or otherwise.
We don’t have to be violent to embrace the spirit of violence. And though I am not worried about becoming a violent person, I am worried that normalizing violence makes me comfortable wishing violence on others which comes out in other ways.
I can identify with author Alan Bradley, “I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.”
Remember, Christ’s words:
“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 5:22
2. Remember who your enemies are
There’s no sin more closely aligned to the spirit of our enemy than wrath. Jesus tells us that Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and there really isn’t and there really isn’t a sin more closely aligned to that goal than wrath. In fact, in Revelation, John confirms his posture towards us:
“But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”—Revelation 12:12
This war against us is not necessarily waged in face-to-face, supernatural conflict. It’s waged using the tools at his disposal: disobedient human actions and the systems, nations, and economies that disobedient people create and perpetuate.
This is why Paul has to remind us:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”—Ephesians 6:6
We think we’re at war with people because it’s people who do terrible things to us. But that’s not the whole picture, they’re just tools in the fist of a malevolent adversary. He wants us to respond with an eye for an eye—he hates the individuals he uses for evil ends as much as he hates those they do evil to.
Our desires for retribution fuel the perpetual cycle of wrathful evil in this dark world.
Don’t miss these posts from my Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins series: