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Questions and Answers

If possible, regarding your excellent summary of the matter of Anger Without Sin, would you please explain the difference between the psychological use versus Biblical use of the word anger in terms of “God relenting in His anger to punish”, “Jesus becoming angry in overturning the tables in the Temple”? Also, could you explain how the motive for “zeal for God’s honor and glory” versus the “desire for revenge” should be noted?

Outline of the Answer
• The Fullness of God
• God’s “Anger”
• Anger has Nothing to do with Holiness
• Anger Cannot Be Justified for Any Reason
• The Cleansing of the Temple
• Clinging to the Traditional Belief

The fullness of God is incomprehensible, even to the angels, and so any human attempt to describe God’s being can be only a far distant approximation of the truth. Through the ages, we have been given glimpses of divine nature: throughout sacred history the Old Testament prophets and ultimately Christ Himself have deepened our understanding of God. But before Christ, when God literally took human form to reveal the depth of His love and mercy, the human conception of God was limited to anthropomorphic description; that is, God was described in the human terms with which the human mind knew itself. Hence, in the Old Testament, God is described as acting with ordinary human emotions and behaviors. In contrast, Christ—even in His human nature—always exemplified the purity of divine love and mercy and was never stained with ordinary human impulsivity, instability, anger, hatred, or revenge, and so He showed us the true divine nature to which generations before Him were unaware.

God’s “Anger”

Consequently, God has often been described in the Old Testament as acting in anger, sometimes even impulsively. Nevertheless, we know from Christ Himself that God is pure love and has no desire to harm His creation. Therefore, Biblical descriptions of God’s “anger” must not be taken literally but must be understood metaphorically as attempts to put into human language ideas that are beyond human understanding. Thus we can recognize that the inspiration behind sacred scripture has a different quality than flawless dictation, and that inspired ideas must, through human necessity, be expressed imperfectly with words that have various shades of meaning.

Hence we can understand that God’s “anger” refers to something about God’s disapproval of whatever is not of His will, and that this “anger” is not the same as human anger. Furthermore, God’s “wrath”—as used in both Old and New Testament writings—has a shade of meaning that does not refer to the same thing as human wrath but refers to some mysterious quality about God that can be approximated by human concepts of intensity, fervor, or vehemence. Even Christ spoke of God’s wrath, but clearly He who said that “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22) was not saying that God, in His wrath, is angry.

Anger has Nothing to do with Holiness

Remembering that anger is not a feeling but a desire to harm whomever or whatever has harmed you, then it should be clear from Christ’s own words and behavior that anger has nothing to do with holiness. This is echoed through his epistles by Saint Paul:

Never repay injury with injury (Romans 12:17).


Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31–32).


But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth (Colossians 3:8).



And, in its most alarming expression,


Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, impurity, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcraft, hate, strife, emulations [rivalries], anger, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, carousing, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19–21).
The alarming words echo in one’s mind: those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.


Zeal for God’s Honor and Glory?

Anger, therefore, cannot be justified for any reason, not even to exact justice in “protecting” God’s honor and glory: the anger of man does not work the justice of God (James 1:20). God can protect Himself; He does not use anger to work His justice, and He certainly does not need our anger to do His work.

Revenge, however, is an act of retaliation for an injury against oneself, and it connotes malice and bitterness as its motive. Clearly, then, malice has nothing to do with protecting God’s honor and glory; instead, malice defiles God’s honor and glory.

The Cleansing of the Temple

So, then, what does the story of The Cleansing of the Temple tell us? All four gospels recount this story of Christ forcefully expelling the merchants and money changers from the temple, and yet none of the accounts attribute anger to Christ. Yes, He used force, but that does not imply anger. Consider that a woodcutter, to cut down a tree with an axe, has to deliver repeated blows to the tree, but that does not mean that the woodcutter must be angry with the tree. Similarly, to cleanse the temple of impiety, Christ used force, but His intention was to cleanse and purify, not to harm. Purification—just as it is accomplished in Purgatory—is a healing process, not a harmful punishment.

Why, then, would someone want to claim that the cleansing of the Temple is an example of Christ getting angry? Why would someone make such a claim despite all the evidence to the contrary? Well, it’s a matter of human frailty “grasping at straws” and working to find any excuse, however flimsy, to avoid doing the spiritually hard work of relinquishing the human delight in a behavior—anger—that can seem sweet and satisfying despite its spiritual dangerousness. Anger is harmful, yes, but it is more harmful to the person wielding it than to the intended victim. The devil’s hand is in that.

Clinging to the Traditional Belief

Saint Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, defined love as “to wish the good of another” (Summa Theologica I-II, 26, 4) thus showing that love is an act of the will, not a feeling or an emotion. Because various emotions (such as affection and fondness) can be associated with love, to call love an act of the will rather than an emotion can seem to defy common perception. Similarly, in defining anger, we can note that anger has traditionally been called an emotion, but now, learning from the psychology of the unconscious, we can recognize that anger is really a wish to cause harm to someone as a result of feeling hurt by someone . Thus we must conclude that anger, like love, is an act of the will, not an emotion. Furthermore, the psychology of the unconscious also reveals that the unconscious motive for anger is for the offended to cause enough harm to the offenders so as to make them change their behavior and act as the offended want the offenders to act. In essence, then, anger is an attempt to bring about justice through one’s own efforts.

If we accept that anger is an act of the will, then we have a clear path to managing any emotional hurt we feel. We can say, “Yes, I feel hurt by what occurred. But rather than getting angry and seeking justice with my own efforts, I will leave the justice to God.” As it has been said, the anger of man does not work the justice of God (James 1:20). Thus it should be clear that even though anger is sweet and that many persons enjoy indulging in it, anger is a sin because it usurps God’s justice.

Still, to accept that anger is not an emotion but an act of the will contradicts traditional beliefs about anger. It’s a dilemma similar to when Galileo showed that the moons circling Jupiter contradicted the traditional belief that everything in the universe revolved around the earth. The outrage inflicted on Galileo derived from the fear that the truth he was espousing was a path to sin.

So what, then, would be the harm in accepting that anger is not an emotion but an act of the will? Well, actually, rather than leading us astray, accepting this truth avoids harm because it holds the clarity of assisting us in avoiding sin; it frees us from the trap of indulging ourselves in a sweetness that has a diabolical core of usurping God’s justice.

Therefore, what can we conclude? To reject something of great clarity just to indulge ourselves in something murky is crazy. Anyone who would do that needs to see a psychologist who understands the unconscious.


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Related pages:

Unconscious anger

Blind to your own anger

What is “anger without sin”?


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