Distinctions—Helpful vs. Harmful Anger - The Warrior's Journey®

Distinctions—Helpful vs. Harmful Anger

Chester.Wade - The Neon Demon 4. Photo by chester wade is licensed under CC By 2.0

It’s harder than you might think to dissect the distinctions of anger.

I think that speaks more to anger’s nature, it’s insidiousness, more than anything else. We have a very difficult time, particularly when we are in the midst of emotions ourselves, distinguishing anger from indignation, protectiveness, passion, justice, conviction, and so many more feelings. We are enraged by the sin and brokenness of the world and the innocent who bear the consequences, the reign of cruelty and the unconscionable over the good and honest. It is right that we should see the shattered world for what it is; and it is right that we should not accept and participate in it, but that we should stand firm in what God calls us to do. So where is the line? How do we know if our anger is helpful or harmful?


When we start to talk about whether or not anger is something that is ever helpful, it’s important to realize that this isn’t really a conversation about anger. Or, it’s not just about anger. Like you may have picked up on from Seeds or Fruits of Anger. The emotion we call anger is so much more than a momentary thing, and the influence it has on our hearts can be huge. The Lord tells us to guard our hearts and seek to follow Christ’s example. It’s a daily, lifelong struggle to do this, and anger can play a big part in making things more difficult if we aren’t diligent.

You see, when we get in a situation where we start asking if it’s “okay” to be angry and if those around us “understand” and we are “justified in our anger,” what should really start happening in our minds is big yellow flashing lights and a British chick saying “Warning: Danger Ahead” on the loudspeaker! Looking for a reason or validation for anger is never going lead us to good places. It’s never going to make us more like Jesus. It’s different than feeling your emotion and processing through it. When people look for justification, it is action oriented (ex. I feel angry so I will now… hit you). There are warnings again and again in Scripture about how anger leads us into more sins and to be wary of letting our momentary emotion of anger (which everyone will experience throughout their life) escalate into actions against those around us.

God offers us this amazing gift of grace and forgiveness; and we often sing songs, hear sermons, and spend time thinking about how blessed we are to receive his mercy. Something we forget is that this message of forgiveness and the great sacrifice that Jesus gave us was not only for you and me—it’s for everyone! So that person who has worn down your patience, earned their punishment, and had it coming, is also a person that Jesus died for and that the Lord extended grace and love to with all generosity.

Do you remember the story of the school shooting in Nickel Mines, PA? On October 2, 2006 a man, the local milk delivery man, went into an Amish school and held 10 girls between the ages of 6 and 13 hostage. He planned to kill them all and then himself because of his pain and anger over the death of his daughter. He did open fire and 5 of the girls were killed and then he killed himself. It was heartbreaking, compounded by the fact that these young girls died so violently when they and their communities are centered on peace and non-violence. You probably don’t know any Amish, Mennonites, or other Anabaptists because they do not join the army. Their beliefs emphasize living according to Jesus’ teaching of the beatitudes through a literal translation. So when Jesus said:

Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor;
     the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are those who mourn;
     God will comfort them!
Happy are those who are humble;
     they will receive what God has promised!
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires;
     God will satisfy them fully!
Happy are those who are merciful to others;
     God will be merciful to them!
Happy are the pure in heart;
     they will see God!
Happy are those who work for peace;
     God will call them his children!
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires;
     the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!
Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted.
Matthew 5:3–12

They apply that literally to their lives and live in a way that follows their convictions to the letter. Many people, myself included, have deep respect for their way of life and it made the shooting at their school all the more heart-wrenching.

Now this story might have been told, and its hearers would be sad for a while and then it would probably fade and be slowly forgotten; but what astounded people and fascinated the world came after the shooting. The Amish families of the children and their community reached out to the gunman’s family with love, generosity, and forgiveness. It shocked people in every country to see this immediate response of grace and forgiveness not just spoken about but acted upon too. Here is a snippet of the account from Wikipedia.com:

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.” Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”

A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts’ family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.

Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

Some commentators criticized the quick and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, arguing that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil, while others were supportive. Donald Kraybill and two other scholars of Amish life noted that “letting go of grudges” is a deeply rooted value in Amish culture, which remembers forgiving martyrs including Dirk Willems and Jesus himself. They explained that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step toward a future that is more hopeful.

Consider in your own life the ways that the Lord calls us to show mercy, give forgiveness, and relinquish our anger. I know it’s not easy. It’s never easy. But most things worth doing aren’t easy, and you have Jesus with you to guide and encourage.

Bible Intro:

You probably don’t align yourself with all of the Amish beliefs. It’s a safe bet considering you’re using electricity to connect to the internet to read this! That doesn’t mean their demonstration of forgiveness can’t speak truth into your own heart. Jesus spoke clearly about the value of love and grace. He showed us another way to live our lives, one that nonbelievers tend to really struggle with because it doesn’t make sense. It’s not of this world. And that’s the whole point!

Scripture: Romans 12:1–3, 9–21

Personal Questions:

  1. Can you remember a time when you had to choose between anger and forgiveness?
  2. Did “the world” tell you your anger was justified? Did that impact your decision?
  3. How do you feel when you get angry? In you heart? Head? Whole body?
  4. How do you think having Jesus in your life impacts how you deal with anger?
  5. Do you believe you will ever be able to extend forgiveness instead of anger?

Continue interacting with this topic here.


I know I am supposed to follow your example and be kind and loving, generous, and merciful; but, all I feel right now is rage. White hot rage at the wrong that has been done. I want to get even, to make things right; and, it is so hard to trust that you have a better way. I want to believe in you and the life you offer, but I’m not sure. Help me have faith in you. Help me trust you and follow you even when my anger seems to make my insides scream. Give me your peace. Guide me to have love and forgiveness for others. Help me be secure in your love for me.

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