Very few people understand what causes their unrighteous anger. Rather than having the understanding they need to prevent it, they simply try to manage it. In fact, most programs to help people with anger problems are built on this “anger management” approach. Unfortunately, trying to manage anger does not get rid of its self-centered source. Like many man-made solutions, a superficial treatment is prescribed before the correct diagnosis is made. Wouldn’t it be better to have “anger-elimination classes”? When people are taught that they can only manage their anger, they rarely experience deep change because the cause of their anger is not addressed. Can people who struggle with anger really change? The answer is yes. We’ve seen God change people very dramatically, once they really understood a few simple principles about anger. It is not unusual to think that having our feelings hurt by others is what causes anger. We think “hurt causes anger.” This is a very common misconception that is neither accurate, helpful, nor biblical. Being hurt does not cause unrighteous anger. Hurt only hurts. If hurt doesn’t cause unrighteous anger, what does?
We think the following equation is true: I get hurt = I get angry When in reality, it is this equation that is true: I am demanding NOT to get hurt + I get hurt = I get angry To further understand this point, consider the fact that we do not get angry every time we get hurt. When my wife hurts my feelings, sometimes I get angry. But others times, I just feel hurt. What’s the difference? When I demand she not hurt me, my hurt feelings turn into unrighteous anger. If she hurts me when I only desire that she not hurt me, I will experience hurt, but not unrighteous anger.
If getting hurt by others caused us to get angry, then the solution to our unrighteous anger would be to get others to stop hurting us. To do that we would have to control others to make sure they do not hurt our feelings. Thus our not becoming angry is dependent on what other people do to us, not what we do. That’s not a very fair or practical solution. How could God command us to not be angry if the only solution was out of our control? The solution to unrighteous anger is to stop demanding-not to try to control other people so they do not hurt us. In my experience, one of the most common demands that people unknowingly make is the demand that “other people not hurt their feelings.” Because getting hurt by others is unfortunately a natural result of being in relationship with others, when we demand not to get hurt, it is only a matter of time before we get angry. If the solution to our anger is to stop demanding, how do we do that? The answer lies in whether we believe we need things to turn out a certain way, or if instead, we are learning to trust God for the outcomes in our lives.
There’s a big difference between needing and desiring a specific outcome. When we desire something and don’t get it, we’re disappointed, but we can still act lovingly. But when we think we need something and don’t get it, we become demanding, and eventually angry. When a friend or spouse lets us down or fails to treat us the way we would want, our response says a lot about where we are putting our faith and hope. If we’re putting faith in people and things to come through for us to meet all our needs, we will get angry when they fall short of our demands. Our anger shows that we are needing and requiring the world to come through for us in ways it was not designed to do. But if other people let us down while we are trusting God to meet our needs, we’ll be disappointed and hurt but not angry.