When taming the emotion of anger, the phrase destructive anger (DA) is helpful to keep in mind. DA refers to anger that is toxic, destructive, and harmful. It causes pain and alienation, and its effects are seen in broken families and stress-filled relationships. In nations and organizations, DA is evident in the dirty politics of revenge and retribution.
On the other hand, DA implies the reality of constructive anger (CA). CA indicates a legitimate form of anger that is constructive and can be channeled to positive ends. CA arises out of a sense of moral repulsion to injustice, oppression, and the mistreatment of the underprivileged and marginalized. It is characterized by motives and actions that are selfless, as opposed to selfish.
Both types of anger deserve scrutiny. CA is moral and based on a selfless and principled foundation. DA is deadly and self-sabotaging, based on a platform of revenge.
DA is the lethal life-wrecking anger that seethes and explodes in aggression and antagonism. It creates harm, ill-will, and revenge. Typically DA is bottled up internally and often leads to substance abuse and self-harm. Average people—Christians included—don’t recognize DA. Instead, they may defensively label it legitimate and constructive.
DA is a vexing life challenge that can’t be handled with platitudes and bromides. The apostle Paul offered some inspired but often overlooked counsel about how to manage anger effectively: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:26, 27).
Honestly identify anger. Is our anger constructive or destructive? Determine whether anger will lead to altruism and righteousness, or to antagonism and unrighteousness. Important point: anger is a legitimate emotion, but it can lead us to sin, or cause us to harm others or ourselves.
Resolutely manage anger. We definitely have a choice, and we can determine our response to anger. Author David Seamands notes: “Anger is a divinely implanted emotion. Closely allied to our instinct for right, it is designed to be used for constructive spiritual purposes. The person who cannot feel anger at evil is a person who lacks enthusiasm for good. If you cannot hate wrong, it’s very questionable whether you really love righteousness.” So while anger is legitimate, it has to be evaluated and controlled by divine principles.
Immediately replace anger. Destructive anger comes from a diabolical source; therefore, it must deliberately be replaced with love and forgiveness. The Greek word Paul used for anger describes a harbored, nurtured resentment. With a spirit of inspiration Paul warned against harboring or allowing anger to incubate, especially overnight. Avoid partnering with this emotion until it builds and explodes. Release it and be free. Embrace it, and it will become a controlling monster in your life and leadership.
So what to do with anger? Recognize, manage, and replace it. Let it have no foothold in our lives. In short, let’s not be mad; let’s be smart.
Delbert W. Baker is vice chancellor of the Adventist University of Africa near Nairobi, Kenya.