Godly Wrath

A multifaith guide to wrath.


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Anger itself is not always a sin in Christianity, but anger can be especially harmful if one commits further wrongs while one is angry. "In your anger do not sin," Paul cautions (Ephesians 4:26).

As Jack Miles

has written

, Christianity turned previous notions of godly anger upside down. While the God of the Old Testament is often depicted as a wrathful God, Jesus preached love and forgiveness instead of anger, and reconciliation over vengeance. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus denounced anger: "But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:22)."

The New Testament's Epistle of James contains one of the most explicit Christian condemnations of anger. "My dear brothers," James says, "take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:19-20)."

Jesus rebuked his disciples for leaning toward vengeance when they were angry, instead of toward reconciliation. When James and John ask Jesus, about the unbelieving Samaritans, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?," the Gospel explains, "Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village (Luke 9:54-56)."


Hinduism teaches that anger is one of the qualities that results in rebirth and inability to reach Brahman. As the Bhagavad Gita says, "Life after life I cast those who are malicious, hateful, cruel, and degraded into the wombs of those with similar demonic natures. Birth after birth they find themselves with demonic tendencies (16:19)."

As it further explains, renouncing anger is necessary to reach life's ultimate goal. The Gita continues, "There are three gates to this self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed. Renounce these three. Those who escape from these three gates of darkness, Arjuna, seek what is best and attain life's supreme goal. Others disregard the teachings of the scriptures. Driven by selfish desire, they miss the goal of life, miss even happiness and success (16:20-23)."

One Hindu

story in the Mahabharata

teaches the difference between a man of forgiveness and a man of wrath. The Mahabharata describes the man of wrath as someone "surrounded by darkness," who "is hated by both relatives and strangers. Such a man, because he insults others, suffers loss of wealth and reaps disregard and sorrow and hatred and confusion and enemies."

The king in the story explains, "Anger is the slayer of men and is again their protector. Know this, O thou possessed of great wisdom, that anger is the root of all prosperity and all adversity. O thou beautiful one, he that suppresses his anger earns prosperity."

Man must "ever forsake anger," the king says, because it will only lead to the world's destruction.

Other Hindu texts concur. The Tirukkural warns:

Forget anger toward all who have offended you,

For from anger springs a multitude of wrongs.

The face's smile and the heart's joy are slain by anger.

Does there exist a greater enemy than one's own anger? (Tirukkural 31: 303-304).

The Upanishads also teach that one who is angry cannot realize Brahman. The Tejabindu Upanishad explains, "Brahman cannot be realized by those who are subject to greed, fear, and anger. . . Brahman cannot be realized by those who are enmeshed in life's duality." But, the text continues, "to all those who pierce this duality, wse hearts are given to the Lord of Love, He gives himself through his infinite grace."

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