What causes our anger? asks Robert Jones in Uprooting Anger. “Our culture offers a myriad of theories,” he writes, including:
- Unconscious psychodynamic forces: “Some theorists think anger flows from deep, inner, unconscious psychodynamic forces. Murky motives lurk within and impulsively drive us.”
- Past mistreatments: “Others blame anger on past childhood mistreatment. This might include traumatic crises, such as physical beatings or sexual molestation.
- Bad nurturing: “Or it might result from chronic bad nurturing, such as parental neglect, dysfunctional family dynamics, or wrong parental modeling of anger in many forms.
- Present hardships: “Others argue that present hardships and current circumstantial suffering produce anger. offenses against us, unmet emotional needs, or living with angry people ‘make’ us mad.”
- Physiological factors: “Medical-model proponents see anger arising from physiological factors—fatigue, genetic abnormalities, brain-chemical imbalances, hormone deficiencies, or bodily disabilities.
- Satan: “Some Christians root anger in direct satanic activity within us—possession or oppression by the devil or maybe even ‘demons of anger.’”
“The Bible, of course, recognizes many of these hardships and speaks to them with compassion and robust insight…Moreover, the Bible recognizes that such factors can exert enormous impact. They tempt and provoke us, making anger easy to develop and difficult to control. Every wise counselor knows the impact of these provocations. Yet provocations are not causes (emphasis mine).”
Numerous Provocations—ONE CAUSE
As we war against our own sinful anger, and seek to help others overcome theirs, it is critical to distinguish between provocation and cause. The provocations of anger are numerous. The cause is singular—it is always our heart. Jesus made that crystal clear (Mark 7:20-23). James, Jesus’ brother, is even more specific. It is the hidden desires, the self-centered and self-exalting lusts of the heart that crave to be worshipped (James 4:1-2). And when others do not bow down and worship us (they do not agree that we are as important as we think we are) then we get angry. Our anger then becomes a tool of manipulation whereby the idol is fed, nursed, petted, and appeased.
What then is the solution? We must repent of our self-centered longings, humble ourselves before God and others, and replace inordinate desires with love—love for God and love for others. The counsel of James is: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10). Let us take our sinful anger to the cross where Jesus suffered for it and let us remember that because He lives, we too may walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4).