The Uses and Abuses of Anger

The Uses and Abuses of Anger

August 15, 2012
Written by Daniel Hazard

Excerpt from Ephesians 4:25-32

"Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger."

Reflection by Martin B. Copenhaver

Of all the Deadly Sins, only anger is so precariously perched on the border of good and evil.  We never speak of "righteous gluttony," or, "just lust."  But sometimes we speak of "righteous anger" or "just anger."   Much of the great good in the world is achieved through anger.

Martin Luther extolled righteous anger as the engine that drove him on to some of his very best work.  He wrote, "I never work better than when I am inspired by anger; for when I am angry I can write, pray, and preach well, for then my whole temperature is quickened, my understanding sharpened, and all mundane vexations and temptations depart."

But anger does not always enlarge our world view and sharpen our insights.  When anger takes over, our vision can become dangerously narrowed.

Anger can be the source of so much that is good and of so much that is evil.  So how are we to make distinctions between the two?

Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 14th century, singled out three disordered expressions of anger, three ways in which anger can be sinful:

First, when we get angry too easily.  We all know people whose sense of justice has been twisted to the extent that they see injustice everywhere.  They have an almost endless list of grievances.

Second, we can get more angry than we should.  Some anger is simply disproportionate, out of scale with what prompts it.

Third, we can be angry for too long.  We can hold onto our anger until it decays into a wretched mass of resentment and bitterness.  Novelist Ann Lamott, says that hanging onto resentments is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.

Paul's advice is even more succinct:  "Do not let the sun go down on your anger."


God, help me to make the tricky distinctions between righteous and self-righteous anger, between anger that serves and anger that is self-serving.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor, Wellesley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Wellesley, Massachusetts. He is the author, with Lillian Daniel, of This Odd and Wondrous Calling: the Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers.

Please review our Community Guidelines before posting a comment. If you have any questions, contact us.

Contact Info

Christina Villa
Director of Publishing, Identity & Communication
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115