RUSS HOBBS MINISTRIES
A DISCUSSION OF ANGER-RESENTMENT-PRIDE
Ressentir is an old French word, literally meaning “intense feeling.” In English, it is resent, and it refers to feeling resentment and indignation due to injustice or insult. People may feel resentful when they are cheated on, stolen from, or lied to. Resentment is often a reaction to being insulted or having one’s errors or weaknesses exposed. Resentment can be directed at an action, a statement, or a person—often, an authority figure, such as a parent, a teacher, or God. Resentment is the cheapest and least legitimate form of anger. It is all emotion and no strength.
Resentment can be sparked by perceived unfair treatment by another person. It could be an injustice, like not getting a deserved promotion, or it could be an insult. Either way, resentment stems from a love of the things of the world and a lack of faith in God and His plan. It is legitimate to recognize unfair treatment, and even to do something about it. But it is not helpful to wallow in feelings of self-righteous anger. The Bible is not concerned with the honor of human pride. An intense emotional response to an otherwise harmless insult may show a lack of spiritual maturity and a love of self (Matthew 5:38-39). As David fled Jerusalem, he faced the curses and insults of Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-8). Rather than respond with resentment towards Shimei—and instead of killing him, as was the king’s right (verse 9)—David chose the path of humility. His words are amazing: “If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’” (verse 10). David avoided feelings of resentment by viewing the situation as from the Lord.
Other times, people feel resentment when God allows or orchestrates an injustice in the course of ministry. If we’re serving God, we should be treated fairly—or so the logic goes. But then we have the example of Elijah, who faced many hardships although he was a faithful servant of the Lord (1 Kings 19:10). Not to mention Job. Jesus warned us of injustice in this fallen world: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Knowing injustice is a fact of life should circumvent resentment in our hearts, as should keeping our eyes on the goal. Being treated unfairly is painful, but our heavenly rewards will more than compensate (Matthew 5:11-12; 6:19-21).
Another situation that can foster resentment is when we are dishonored because of personal sin. Being accused of a failing we’re innocent of is injustice. Being accused of sin we are guilty of can bring overwhelming shame and a goodly amount of denial. Sometimes the only way God can draw our attention to our sin is to expose our faults in public. As the saying goes, “He loves us too much to leave us where we are.” We may dislike what God is speaking into our lives, but resentment isn’t going to help. Instead, when our sins have found us out (Numbers 32:23), it’s vital to admit we’re wrong. Human pride is nothing compared to the true honor we receive when He sanctifies us (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Resentment is a passive, weak emotion that has no place in the Christian life. If there is injustice, we should deal with it through prayer and godly action. If there is insult, we should concentrate on who we are in Christ and not place too much value on the cruel words of others. If we face injustice in the course of our work for God, we should accept it as to be expected. And if God allows us to be dishonored for the sake of sanctification, the best, least painful response is to repent and allow Him to work in us.
Handling anger is an important life skill. Christian counselors report that 50 percent of people who come in for counseling have problems dealing with anger. Anger can shatter communication and tear apart relationships, and it ruins both the joy and health of many. Sadly, people tend to justify their anger instead of accepting responsibility for it. Everyone struggles, to varying degrees, with anger. Thankfully, God’s Word contains principles regarding how to handle anger in a godly manner, and how to overcome sinful anger.
Anger is not always sin. There is a type of anger of which the Bible approves, often called “righteous indignation.” God is angry (Psalm 7:11; Mark 3:5), and it is acceptable for believers to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Two Greek words in the New Testament are translated as “anger.” One means “passion, energy” and the other means “agitated, boiling.” Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. Examples of biblical anger include David’s being upset over hearing Nathan the prophet sharing an injustice (2 Samuel 12) and Jesus’ anger over how some of the Jews had defiled worship at God’s temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-18). Notice that neither of these examples of anger involved self-defense, but a defense of others or of a principle.
That being said, it is important to recognize that anger at an injustice inflicted against oneself is also appropriate. Anger has been said to be a warning flag—it alerts us to those times when others are attempting to or have violated our boundaries. God cares for each individual. Sadly, we do not always stand up for one another, meaning that sometimes we must stand up for ourselves. This is especially important when considering the anger that victims often feel. Victims of abuse, violent crime, or the like have been violated in some way. Often while experiencing the trauma, they do not experience anger. Later, in working through the trauma, anger will emerge. For a victim to reach a place of true health and forgiveness, he or she must first accept the trauma for what it was. In order to fully accept that an act was unjust, one must sometimes experience anger. Because of the complexities of trauma recovery, this anger is often not short-lived, particularly for victims of abuse. Victims should process through their anger and come to a place of acceptance, even forgiveness. This is often a long journey. As God heals the victim, the victim’s emotions, including anger, will follow. Allowing the process to occur does not mean the person is living in sin.
Anger can become sinful when it is motivated by pride (James 1:20), when it is unproductive and thus distorts God’s purposes (1 Corinthians 10:31), or when anger is allowed to linger (Ephesians 4:26-27). One obvious sign that anger has turned to sin is when, instead of attacking the problem at hand, we attack the wrongdoer. Ephesians 4:15-19 says we are to speak the truth in love and use our words to build others up, not allow rotten or destructive words to pour from our lips. Unfortunately, this poisonous speech is a common characteristic of fallen man (Romans 3:13-14). Anger becomes sin when it is allowed to boil over without restraint, resulting in a scenario in which hurt is multiplied (Proverbs 29:11), leaving devastation in its wake. Often, the consequences of out-of-control anger are irreparable. Anger also becomes sin when the angry one refuses to be pacified, holds a grudge, or keeps it all inside (Ephesians 4:26-27). This can cause depression and irritability over little things, which are often unrelated to the underlying problem.
We can handle anger biblically by recognizing and admitting our prideful anger and/or our wrong handling of anger as sin (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9). This confession should be both to God and to those who have been hurt by our anger. We should not minimize the sin by excusing it or blame-shifting.
We can handle anger biblically by seeing God in the trial. This is especially important when people have done something to offend us. James 1:2-4, Romans 8:28-29, and Genesis 50:20 all point to the fact that God is sovereign over every circumstance and person that crosses our path. Nothing happens to us that He does not cause or allow. Though God does allow bad things to happen, He is always faithful to redeem them for the good of His people. God is a good God (Psalm 145:8, 9, 17). Reflecting on this truth until it moves from our heads to our hearts will alter how we react to those who hurt us.
We can handle anger biblically by making room for God’s wrath. This is especially important in cases of injustice, when “evil” men abuse “innocent” people. Genesis 50:19 and Romans 12:19 both tell us to not play God. God is righteous and just, and we can trust Him who knows all and sees all to act justly (Genesis 18:25).
We can handle anger biblically by returning good for evil (Genesis 50:21; Romans 12:21). This is key to converting our anger into love. As our actions flow from our hearts, so also our hearts can be altered by our actions (Matthew 5:43-48). That is, we can change our feelings toward another by changing how we choose to act toward that person.
We can handle anger biblically by communicating to solve the problem. There are four basic rules of communication shared in Ephesians 4:15, 25-32:
1) Be honest and speak (Ephesians 4:15, 25). People cannot read our minds. We must speak the truth in love.
2) Stay current (Ephesians 4:26-27). We must not allow what is bothering us to build up until we lose control. It is important to deal with what is bothering us before it reaches critical mass.
3) Attack the problem, not the person (Ephesians 4:29, 31). Along this line, we must remember the importance of keeping the volume of our voices low (Proverbs 15:1).
4) Act, don’t react (Ephesians 4:31-32). Because of our fallen nature, our first impulse is often a sinful one (v. 31). The time spent in “counting to ten” should be used to reflect upon the godly way to respond (v. 32) and to remind ourselves how the energy anger provides should be used to solve problems and not create bigger ones.
At times we can handle anger preemptively by putting up stricter boundaries. We are told to be discerning (1 Corinthians 2:15-16; Matthew 10:16). We need not “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). Sometimes our anger leads us to recognize that certain people are unsafe for us. We can still forgive them, but we may choose not to re-enter the relationship.
Finally, we must act to solve our part of the problem (Romans 12:18). We cannot control how others act or respond, but we can make the changes that need to be made on our part. Overcoming a temper is not accomplished overnight. But through prayer, Bible study, and reliance upon God’s Holy Spirit, ungodly anger can be overcome. We may have allowed anger to become entrenched in our lives by habitual practice, but we can also practice responding correctly until that, too, becomes a habit and God is glorified in our response.
There is a difference between the kind of pride that God hates (Proverbs 8:13) and the kind of pride we can feel about a job well done (Galatians 6:4) or the kind of pride we express over the accomplishment of loved ones (2 Corinthians 7:4). The kind of pride that stems from self-righteousness or conceit is sin, however, and God hates it because it is a hindrance to seeking Him.
Psalm 10:4 explains that the proud are so consumed with themselves that their thoughts are far from God: “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” This kind of haughty pride is the opposite of the spirit of humility that God seeks: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The “poor in spirit” are those who recognize their utter spiritual bankruptcy and their inability to come to God aside from His divine grace. The proud, on the other hand, are so blinded by their pride that they think they have no need of God or, worse, that God should accept them as they are because they deserve His acceptance.
Throughout Scripture we are told about the consequences of pride. Proverbs 16:18-19 tells us that “pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud.” Satan was cast out of heaven because of pride (Isaiah 14:12-15). He had the selfish audacity to attempt to replace God Himself as the rightful ruler of the universe. But Satan will be cast down to hell in the final judgment of God. For those who rise up in defiance against God, there is nothing ahead but disaster (Isaiah 14:22).
Pride has kept many people from accepting Jesus Christ as Savior. Admitting sin and acknowledging that in our own strength we can do nothing to inherit eternal life is a constant stumbling block for prideful people. We are not to boast about ourselves; if we want to boast, then we are to proclaim the glories of God. What we say about ourselves means nothing in God’s work. It is what God says about us that makes the difference (2 Corinthians 10:18).
Why is pride so sinful? Pride is giving ourselves the credit for something that God has accomplished. Pride is taking the glory that belongs to God alone and keeping it for ourselves. Pride is essentially self-worship. Anything we accomplish in this world would not have been possible were it not for God enabling and sustaining us. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). That is why we give God the glory—He alone deserves it.