Where Our Anger Comes From (And How To Fight)

I don’t know anyone who isn’t tempted to anger from time to time.

We may curse the idiot driver who pulls out out in front of us or speak harshly to our children. We may get angry at our spouse because they forgot to do that thing we asked 16 times.

Hopefully we do nothing violent, but we may throw our hands up in the air or roll our eyes or think, “Really? Really!?”

Have you ever wondered where our anger comes from? Is it caused by our kids when they disobey us? Or by our husband when he makes a mess again and doesn’t clean it up?

I’m not talking about righteous anger, like we might feel if we saw an adult abusing a child. I’m talking about that anger that erupts when our plans are frustrated or our teenager dents the car.

Anger feels like it is caused by something outside us

Like when other people make us mad. My boss makes me so mad. My teenager. My roommate. The President. The whole government. Republicans. Democrats. THEY MAKE ME so mad!

We don’t usually think of anger as OUR problem. It’s SOMEBODY ELSE doing something to me. It is something OUTSIDE of me.

Anger usually feels like it erupts instantaneously from nowhere, like Mt. St. Helens.

So where does anger come from? Is it caused by others or by our circumstances? If our anger is caused by someone or something outside us, then we can’t be responsible for it. It’s their fault not mine.

When I first learned where the Bible says my anger comes from, it surprised me.

Bigtime.

Anger comes from within us

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. GA 5.19-21

“The works of the flesh” are the works of our fallen nature that still remains within us.

When we believe in Jesus, God gives us his Holy Spirit and causes us to be born again to a new life. We are no longer under the dominion of our fallen nature, but it still seeks to exert itself. And the “works” of our fallen nature include anger: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” and things like these.

Other people and things that happen to us do not cause our anger. Our anger comes from our fallen nature.

James puts it this way:


What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. James 4:1-2

We fight and quarrel and get angry because of our passions or strong desires WITHIN us, not outside us.

James says, we “desire and do not have,” so we murder – sometimes literally, but usually in our hearts. He says we “covet and cannot obtain” – in other words, we really want something strongly and can’t get it – so we fight and quarrel.

The root of our anger: we want something and can’t get it

It might be something small, like we want to relax and our kids aren’t going to bed like we told them so we get angry. Or we can want bigger things – like our wife to respect us – and when she doesn’t we unleash our anger.

Our anger is not caused by anyone or anything outside us. Your wife doesn’t cause your anger. That guy who pulled out in front of you didn’t cause it. Your kids can’t make you mad by not going to bed the way you want them to.

Our anger comes out of our flesh – it’s a work of the flesh. The cause of our anger is our desires. We want something and don’t get it, so we get angry.

You want your wife to respect you and when you don’t get it, you get angry. You want your kids to obey you right away, and when you don’t get that you get angry. But remember, your children can’t make you angry. Your anger erupts from your thwarted cravings.

One of the lies of our flesh is that our anger will intimidate others to give us what we want.

If I yell at my wife, I can intimidate her to respect me. If I shout at my kids when they’re goofing around before bed, they’ll “fear” me and obey me. This is an absolute lie. Our anger won’t accomplish a thing.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

Did you catch that? “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

We think anger will make people do the right thing. Our anger will make our kids obey us, make them act in righteousness. Well, it might make them obey us out of fear, but not because they want to please God. Our anger will not “produce the righteousness of God” in them.

How can we overcome our anger?

Years ago, I heard someone teach that the first thing to do when I am tempted to anger, is to ask myself this question: What is it that I want that I am not getting?

What is it that I want that I am not getting?

This is such a great question because it gets to the root of our anger. Now I don’t ask what is the other person doing that frustrates me. I ask what is it I want that I’m not getting?

That puts the responsibility on me. Then I can ask myself what would a godly response be? Can I talk to my wife about this? Can I be gentle with my kids? Is there a way to handle this without anger?

After asking the big question, PRAY!

Pray about that “desire” and anger. Ask God for help, to give patience and grace toward others. He’s waiting to help you.

Remember we should focus on our own weaknesses rather than those of others. We need to look for the log in our own eyes before we try to remove the speck in others’. Before we get irritated at that old guy who pulled in front us, we need to remember we have done the same thing.

Next time you’re tempted to anger, remember, ask the question, “What is it that I want that I am not getting?”

Confess your anger to God, ask others for forgiveness if you vented your anger on them, and pray for the Lord to help you. It’s his will to help us, to produce the fruit of love, patience, and mercy in us.

He will help you conquer your anger.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.

10 comments

  • Mark, this is very helpful. I do have a question nonetheless. I am regularly angered by other drivers on the roads, particularly when they break the law on very simple things. I am not sure how to relate that to what I want.

    • Mike, great question. There is good anger and bad anger. An excellent book that digs deeply into this distinction is “Good and Angry” by David Powlison. What this post is talking about is *only* the bad anger (and does an excellent job addressing that kind of anger!). The problem isn’t that we get angry. The problem is that we get angry in the bad way. Scripture doesn’t command us not to be angry. It commands us to be angry and *not* sin (Ephesians 4:26). There’s just as much a problem in not getting angry in a good way as there is in getting angry in a bad way.

      To your example, there is a bad way to get angry on the road and a good way. My bad anger is when I’m angry at the guy who’s driving slowly in front of me because I want to get where I’m going in a hurry and he’s an obstacle in the path of fulfilling that desire. But if I’m angry at the guy who’s cutting other people off, that’s probably the good kind of anger because it’s responding negatively to something that isn’t the way it should be. As long as I don’t sin in the process (remember Ephesians 4:26), which is usually the sticky part for all of us. We tend to make things more about us and our preferences than they are about God and His righteous standard, and when we do this is where our good anger becomes bad. But it’s a fuzzy line that requires discernment and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit for each person to recognize when he’s beginning to cross that line.

      Which is to say, your anger at other drivers could be good. But it also could easily become bad (e.g. why can’t he drive more like me?), though apart from obvious outward manifestations only you can discern with the help of the Holy Spirit.

      Hope that helps,
      Chris

  • This article has helped me and my husband tonight. I am a Christian that still has anger problems but my husband is worse to the point that I made up my mind to divorce him because I don’t want my children to see this almost every week. Also, I’ve fasted for 40 days praying and studying the words and trying to walk the talk. I noticed during praying and fasting, the enemy really wants to destroy what God has put together, marriage, relationships, our family. It’s difficult. Like a little child, I run to God right away after fighting with my husband. I pray, I learned so much about my sins as I go deeper knowing His words and my relationship with him. I fellowshipped with God and I don’t stop praying, he is my refuge. He reveal Himself everyday, He is gentle, His love is beyond words. My husband came to me crying and asking for forgiveness after I prayed and we read this article together. Thank you Pastor Stephen Altrogge. We will keep praying that God will enlarge your territory to spread the gospel of Jesus.

    • Bless your heart Rodelma. I am sorry for your pain and thankful for your hope. I will think of you in my prayers and most especially that you and your children are not caught in the cycle of abuse. Abuse cycles often involve regret on the part of the abuser without them ever taking the necessary steps to improve.

  • Thank you sir, I didn’t give u anything or pay for this post u had sleepless in to put together. But since I have gift of
    Prophesy therefore I prophesy today catch it: God AllPowerful (the Carpenter of Galilee) give this servant of urs extraordinary power to do the things he has never done since you called him. Amen it’s done thank you.

  • I am a grandmother now but have needed help with anger. I grew up in a home with an angry father. I am a Christian and I want to thank you for using the scriptures and giving practical help to go with it. I especially like the question “what is it I want and I am not getting it?”

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