Get a Grip on Wrath

Watch out for these common reservoirs that can supply us with wrath.

When we experience the extreme anger of wrath, it often seems to come out of nowhere — almost like an automatic reaction to a person or event. But I think Dallas Willard was right when he said: "The explosion of anger never simply comes from the incident. Most people carry a supply of anger around with them."

Following are some of the common reservoirs that can supply us with wrath.

Wrath starts with hurt.

The reality is that hurt people hurt people. If you struggle with wrath, it's likely over a real offense you've suffered. It could be the need for payback you feel is aimed at the person who hurt you, but many times our sense of hurt gets spewed out in wrath toward all kinds of people who truly don't deserve it.

Sometimes the hurt is a big hurt — we were abused, we were unjustly accused, we were bullied. Sometimes the hurt isn't necessarily caused by a person, but it started from a pain we suffered — we lost a loved one, we lost our livelihood, we lost our home in a disaster, we were diagnosed with a disease.

In any event, feelings of unchecked anger nearly always stem from a deep-rooted sense of pain or injustice. Think about it: Someone cuts us off on the highway, and we angrily honk, yell, or make specific hand gestures. Why? It's not just because of the offense of being cut off; it's because of what that offense represents-a series of offenses or one big offense we've not yet learned how to overlook and give over to God.

Anger problems are often pain problems. We haven't learned how to deal with pain, so we lash out and hurt others or become filled with vengeance, thinking this will bring satisfaction. It never consoles the hurt, of course. In fact, it often creates a new cycle of wrath in somebody else.

Wrath appeals to entitlement.

Pride is the foundation of every sin, and wrath is no exception. When we lash out or seek payback because of an offense, we're demonstrating our belief that we are owed. And sometimes we are! There are legitimate grievances that deserve addressing. When someone has made us a victim of their own sin, they do owe us a repentant apology. But we should be cautious, because this sense of entitlement can also cause us harm.

It's like the heat gauge on your car's dashboard panel. There are normal levels that represent what we deserve all the time — human dignity, respect of body and property by others, and so on. When someone violates those normal expectations, the needle rises. Suddenly we're in the yellow range. We're seriously owed an apology or restitution of some kind, but we're also in danger of becoming too interested in restitution. Like anger, if our sense of entitlement goes unchecked by God's sovereignty and personal self-control (even when it's legitimately aroused), that needle can fly into the red zone of wrath.

The solution is to consider our own sinfulness in the light of God's holiness, which puts any entitlement we might feel on pretty shaky ground.

Wrath results from self-idolatry.

When we experience wrath, that needle is in the red. We're hurt, we feel entitled, and, therefore, we must be appeased. Suddenly we're unable to let anything go; satisfaction must be made. Forgiveness? What's that? I'll forgive when they repent! I'll forgive when I know they're sorry, and I'll make them sorry if it's the last thing I do!

Wrath is the product of self-glorification and self-exaltation. Like some all-encompassing god whose needs must be met, wrath takes hurt and entitlement and uses them as justification to usurp the place of God as judge. This is a big problem for two reasons: 1. We are not God. 2. God has withheld His wrath from us. Read Matthew 18:23-35. According to this parable, how should the kingdom of heaven affect the economy of personal debts? Does this point to a change in any of the relationships in your life? If so, what?

Wrath is a willful forgetfulness-a decision to deny others what we ourselves have received. Through Christ, God has let us off the hook. But we're not gonna let others off so easy! This is dangerous. Because according to Matthew 18:23-35, when we put ourselves in the place of our wrathful God, meting out vengeance however we see fit, we indulge the sin of prideful self-worship. And that puts us squarely in the crosshairs of God's wrath.

This article is excerpted from Seven Daily Sins (Threads by LifeWay) by Jared C. Wilson.

Jared C. Wilson is pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vt. He is married to Becky, and they have two children. He is the author of the Bible studies Seven Daily Sins and Abide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture. Learn more about Jared at

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