Reprinted from "The Journey" by Billy Graham, with permission of W Publishing Group.

Emotions That Destroy: Anger and Bitterness

Every destructive emotion bears its own harvest, but anger's fruit is the most bitter of all. Uncontrolled anger is a devastating sin, and no one is exempt from its havoc. It shatters friendships and destroys marriages; it causes abuse in families and discord in business; it breeds violence in the community and war between nations. Its recoil, like that of a high-powered rifle, often hurts the one who wields it as well as its target. Anger makes us lash out at others, destroying relationships and revealing our true nature. The history of the human race is largely the history of its anger.

Nor are Christians exempt from anger's grip. After Jesus' arrest Peter angrily denied his Lord: "He began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don't know this man you're talking about"' (Mark 14:71). Paul had to urge the Ephesian Christians to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice" (Ephesians 4:31). How many churches have been torn apart by someone's anger? How many people have been turned away from Christ because of a Christian's anger? We get angry when others hurt us, both by what they say and what they do.

We get angry too when we don't get our own way or our plans and dreams are frustrated. Anger may arise in an instant erupting like a volcano and raining destruction on everyone in sight. Often, however, anger simmers just below the surface, sometimes for a lifetime. Like a corrosive acid, this kind of anger eats away at our bodies and souls, yet we may not even be aware of its presence.

Some people are angry at God. Sometimes I get letters from people who have been touched by tragedy—but instead of seeking God's help, they angrily blame Him for what happened. As a result they cut themselves off from the peace and joy He alone can give us, even when we don't understand.

Is anger ever justified? Yes—when it is caused by injustice and sin instead of our selfishness or hurt pride. God is angry when His righteousness is scorned; Jesus forcefully drove out from the temple those who were callously making money from God's people (Matthew 21:12-13). We must be careful, however; sometimes our so-called "righteous indignation" is little more than a cover for lovelessness or self-righteousness.

Anger and bitterness (as well as hatred, jealousy, and resentment, their offspring) aren't identical, but they are closely related. Bitterness is anger gone sour, an attitude of deep discontent that poisons our souls and destroys our peace. My wife has said that a bitter, sour Christian is one of Satan's greatest trophies—and she's right. The Bible says, "See to it…that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many" (Hebrews 12:15). Are anger or bitterness keeping you from becoming the person God wants you to be?

Conquering Anger

Can we overcome our anger, instead of constantly being overcome by it? Yes—with God's help. Peter's anger was channeled into boldness for Christ. Paul's anger against Christians was replaced with a burning passion to spread the Gospel. The Bible commands us "to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:23-24). Is this your goal?

How should we deal with anger? The answer is decisively! The first step in gaining victory over unjustified anger is to want to get rid of it—and the key to that is to see it for what it is: sin in God's eyes. Jesus warned, "Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:22).

This means we must stop making excuses for our anger or bad temper—blaming it on our parents, for example, or claiming we have every right to be angry because of something that happened to us in the past. We also must face honestly the toll anger and bitterness take on our lives. They are our enemies! The Bible says, "An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins" (Proverbs 29:22). It also says, "Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; …it leads only to evil" (Psalm 37:8). Never underestimate anger's destructive power.

The second step—as with every other sin—is to confess it to God, and seek His forgiveness and help. On the cross Christ took upon Himself every sin you ever committed—including your anger. God in His love and mercy not only promises to forgive our anger, but to cleanse it from our lives if we will let Him. No matter its cause, commit your anger to God, and ask Him to replace it with the Holy Spirit's fruit of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice: Anger is the exact opposite of every one of these. Anger flees when the Spirit's fruit fills our hearts.