"I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies."—Psalm 139:22
How did David, beloved of God, cope with his anger? Without knowing more, in this text it is not clear whether he is coping with anger or letting it eat him up. How do you cope with anger?
"Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26). Paul implies that unless we are careful, becoming angry can lead to sin.
The Emotion of Anger
Anger is an emotion, a natural function of being human. It is not possible for one to avoid anger any more than it is possible to avoid love or fear or grief. God himself experiences anger. The scriptures are replete with references to God’s anger.
Could God hate if he did not experience anger? We read in Proverbs 6:16-19 of seven things God hates: "These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren." The child of God should likewise hate these sinful characteristics of the fallen nature and be angry at seeing them displayed. This is righteous anger and is not sin.
McClintock and Strong’s Encyclopedia defines anger as "the emotion of instant displeasure, which arises from the feeling of injury done, or the discovery of injury intended, or, in many cases, from the discovery of the omission of good offices to which we supposed ourselves entitled."
This portion of the definition applies uniquely to us. Notice that it frequently stems from pride! It arises from not necessarily injury actually done but from a feeling of injury intended, or the omission from an honor or position of which we thought ourselves worthy. That should give us great reason to ponder our right to be angry.
Two Types of Emotions
We are told that there are two basic types of human emotions, based on their effect upon the body. The first group includes those that result in over stimulation of various parts of the body: an over stimulation, via the nervous system, of any organ or any muscle or of one or more of the endocrine glands. This over stimulation produces an unpleasant feeling. Anger, anxiety, fear, discouragement, grief, and dissatisfaction are just a few in this category.
The second group includes those emotions whose manifestations in the body are an optimal (or most favorable) stimulation. These emotions give us a pleasant feeling or a sense of well being. Among these are hope, joy, courage, affection, love, agreeableness, and many others. Would any classify emotions of this sort a sin? Of course not, and yet these are also emotions, as are anger and fear.
That emotions are reactions to stimuli is borne out in the origin of the Hebrew words for anger. Half a dozen Hebrew words are translated "anger," and they all seem to deal with external signs of body reaction to stimulus. One is "to breathe hard," an obvious external sign of anger. Another is "nostril," which flares out when one is angry. Another means to "glow," or grow warm, and yet another means to "froth at the mouth."
Manifestations of Human Anger
Some of the external manifestations of the emotion of anger are a reddening of the skin of the face, a widening of the eyelids, bloodshot whites of the eyes, contraction and tightening of the lips, a setting of the jaw, a clenching of the fists, a tremor in the arms, and often in the voice. The onlooker can detect a state of anger immediately upon seeing anyone with such manifestations.
However, the internal manifestations are much more profound and remarkable. When people become angry, their blood will clot much, much quicker. This is a natural defense mechanism, because emotional reaction often implies a fight, and a wound or wounds, so blood clotting becomes necessary to minimize blood loss.
Another similarly valuable manifestation is that the number of blood cells in the circulating blood increases dramatically. Also, the muscles at the outlet of the stomach squeeze down so tightly that nothing can leave the stomach during anger. The entire digestive tract becomes so spastic that many people have severe abdominal pains during or after a fit of anger. The heart rate goes up markedly during anger, often to 180 or 220, and even higher, and will remain there until the anger has passed. The blood pressure will go up from a normal of 130 to 230 or more, and in anger, the coronary arteries will squeeze down, producing angina pains.
Obviously anyone who undergoes repeated and unrestrained fits of anger also undergoes a great deal of undue stress and strain on the various parts of the body. Physical health is placed in jeopardy. As the apostle points out concerning the integral parts of the body of Christ in Ephesians 4:16, what affects one member of that body will affect other members. Would it not follow that the health of that spiritual body would also be placed in jeopardy by the uncontrolled anger of its members?
Understanding the nature and extent of this emotion we call anger can go a long way toward learning to cope with it. Remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition above (Ephesians 4:26, 27). Note the Diaglott wording: "When angry, do not sin; let not the sun set on your wrath; nor give an opportunity for the accuser." One cannot help becoming angry, but the Christian must not give in to the temptation of venting his wrath. That is what the old fallen nature, which is in slavery to Satan, longs to do. But if one gives in to it, then it becomes sin. In Romans 8, Paul emphasizes that "ye are not in the flesh," and thus are not subject to Satan; but in the spirit, "if so be that the spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Furthermore, Paul, in the concluding verses of Romans 12 and the opening verses of chapter 13, explains that we, as Christians, are not to avenge ourselves. We are not authorized to set things right as we see the wrong, but we are to step out of the way and let God handle the matter in his own way. He then quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, saying, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."
The responsibility of the follower of Jesus then is to exercise faith that the Lord is not only capable of dealing with the matter but is also active at all times in all such arrangements for the very purpose of giving his followers experiences to test, develop, and strengthen their loyalty and faith. Whenever one is tempted to exercise his personal wrath, he is in jeopardy of preempting the Lord’s next move, assuming authority where he has none.
What of David’s anger as expressed in his phrase, "I hate them with perfect hatred"? In the context we see that he is really echoing God’s statement in Proverbs and expressing his hatred for all things wicked in the sight of God. He concludes this psalm by saying, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if [there be any] wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (vs. 23, 24).
Think of David’s experience with Bathsheba and the lengths to which he was willing to go to have her for his own. It seems beyond reason that he went to the point of having her husband murdered. That is exactly the issue here! It is beyond reason! Love, hate, anger are all beyond reason because they are emotions! After the parable that Nathan recited to him, can we not readily assume that David examined himself and found wickedness in his own character that was beyond his control? Perhaps it was exactly this kind of wickedness that he hated with "a perfect hatred!"
Slow to Anger
"He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city."—Proverbs 16:32
This text tells us how God views the self control of his children and is, of course, the theme of the followers of Christ, changing their character. Changing the character of fallen human nature, for those called out of darkness, has been the greatest work of the past 2000 years of the Gospel age. According to the Apostle Paul, in Romans 8:5-8, the fallen human nature is opposed to God and is not subject to his laws. He even said that it cannot be. That is quite a statement and one most baffling to those in Christendom who presently see themselves in covenant relationship with God on Sunday but pursue their own personal interests the other six days of the week. The law of God has not to do with actions or activities. It is not a set of rules to follow in order to become righteous. The laws given to Israel by Moses were not designed to make Israel righteous. No laws can do that. We reiterate Romans 8:7: "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Becoming righteous is not accomplished by following laws but rather by faith changing the thought processes of the mind and thus the condition of the heart.
The Ten Commandments should control the mind of man. When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus said that love is greatest; first, to love God with all one’s heart and soul, and then to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:36-40). While love itself is not a physical action, it can only be defined by one’s actions. The parable of the sheep and the goats shows that, in the end, it is love in the character that is important and that the character shows itself in one’s actions rather than the other way around.
It is a simple matter to advise one, "When you become angered, do not let it control you." It is another matter entirely to instill control in one’s character. For example: you are driving your car in traffic and others keep cutting into your lane without so much as a signal. You keep slowing down to avoid following too closely in order to allow for a margin of safety. You are just as concerned about getting to work on time as the others, yet you want to get there in one piece. Just how do you "turn the other cheek" in a case like this? Then, with this experience fresh in mind, you arrive at work to find that someone has parked in your designated parking space, and you have to drive around looking for a place to park. Now, arriving late at your workplace due to delays caused by others, your co-workers tease you for over-sleeping. At this point your nostrils have flared, your face has taken on a pink glow, and your breathing is heavy. Are you angry? Certainly! Have you lost control? Possibly, at least to the extent that your co-workers are alerted and they are reacting accordingly.
This is hardly an unusual set of circumstances in the hustle and bustle of today. What will you do about it? How do you cope with your anger when it is piled on layer after layer? One trial at a time you can handle, but this load seems unmanageable.
If we can remember what anger does to us physically and that only spiritual strength can overcome it, then we can seek that strength. In the privacy of our car on a quiet street or before going to work, we can seek the Lord and put the burden on him.
We might do well, in time of need, to be able to call to mind one or more of the following mini-lessons. "Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil" (Psalm 37:8). "He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding" (Proverbs 14:29). "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).