The Old Testament often describes God as “slow to anger.” A more literal translation of the Hebrew is actually “long-nosed,” which makes no sense in English. But it’s a picture of a person who takes a long time to reach the point where they’re so angry that their nostrils flare and the air whooshes through their nose like a bull about to charge.
The phrases “slow to anger” and“long-suffering,” are both translated from two Hebrew words — “long” and “breath/passion/heat/anger.” The Greek equivalent is typically translated “patience” or “long-suffering.” It’s not about never getting angry, but about having control over when that happens and not flying off into a rage.
Anger is not inherently sinful. God gets angry, and Paul also tells us we can be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26). But God doesn’t get angry quickly or without good cause, and we shouldn’t either. So how can we become “slower to anger” and “longer suffering”?
Quick Anger Fuels Strife
I think the dividing line between anger that is and is not sinful can be found in the effect that it has. Jesus throwing those who were exploiting believers out of the temple? Righteous anger. Me getting so upset at someone that I say something nasty which leads to conflict? Sinful anger.
God hates arrogance, wicked schemes, and discord. So if your anger is causing these (or anything else He hates), then it is leading to sin. There are several Proverbs addressing this. Here are a few:
He who is quick to become angry will commit folly, and a crafty man is hated. (Prov. 14:17, WEB)
A wrathful man stirs up contention, but one who is slow to anger appeases strife. (Prov. 15:18, WEB)
An angry man stirs up strife, and a wrathful man abounds in sin. (Prov. 29:22, WEB)
Folly, contention, strife, and sin are associated with being a wrathful, quick to anger person. That’s not something we should want in our lives because it’s not something God wants. Rather, we need to follow God’s example of being slow to anger.
The Value of Self-Victory
Proverbs also has some things to say about the value of being slow to anger:
One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; one who rules his spirit, than he who takes a city. (Prov. 16:32, WEB)
The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger. It is his glory to overlook an offense. (Prov. 19:11, WEB)
Self-victory over your passions is a more excellent thing than being a mighty warrior who could conquer a city. Anger can be a powerful thing, but restraining anger and practicing discretion is even more powerful. Once we have self-control, then we can be sure that we’re only letting our anger out when there is a good and godly reason for it.
Danger To Yourself
There’s a verse in Proverbs that says, “Like a city that is broken down and without walls is a man whose spirit is without restraint” (Prov. 25:28, WEB). I’ve always thought of this verse in the sense that a man with no self-control is a danger to others. But walls are designed to protect what’s inside the city; not to protect others from the city. Someone who can’t restrain his own spirit is defenseless. To quote Matthew Henry’s commentary,
“All that is good goes out, and forsakes him; all that is evil breaks in upon him. He lies exposed to all the temptations of Satan and becomes an easy prey to that enemy; he is also liable to many troubles and vexations.”
Failing to be slow to anger hurts us as well as those around us. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t feel anger. In fact, we won’t learn how to handle our emotions if we refuse to feel them. We need to learn how to feel, process, and govern our passions and emotions. Otherwise we’re vulnerable to all kinds of trouble.
God describes Himself as “Yahweh, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness and truth” (Ex. 34:6, WEB). If we want to be like Him, then we also have to be “slow to anger.” When we’re slow to anger, we become people of “great understanding,” peacemakers, powerful, discreet, and honorable (Prov. 14:29; 15:18; 16:32; 19:11).
So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20, WEB)
James goes on to say that we must be “doers” of God’s word, not just hearers. He also says that if anyone cannot “bridle his tongue … this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:21-27). Without long-suffering and self-control. we cannot be like God nor worship Him as He desires to be worshiped. Unbridled emotional expression rarely leads to righteousness. We need to submit all of ourselves to God, including the ways we handle strong emotions. He doesn’t tell us not to feel things — He’s the one who gave us emotions, after all. But He does want us to learn how to use those feelings for His glory.
Featured image credit: Daniel Reche via Pixabay