The outcome of World War II was arguably determined on the night of August 24, 1940. Ten German Heinkel He 111 bombers got lost over Great Britain and accidentally dropped their bombs on London. The next night eighty RAF bombers hit Berlin in hot revenge.
Up till this time, the Luftwaffe had been focussed on strategically hitting radar stations and sector stations. The sector stations were responsible for directing fighter aircraft into battle. It was a terribly effective means of gouging out the eyes, ears, and brains of the RAF.
After the bombing of Berlin, Hitler flew into a rage. He declared that he’d destroy British cities. Rather than hitting radar and sector stations, the Luftwaffe would now be tasked with terror bombing of cities. Hitler believed these attacks would destroy British morale and decimate armament production. They did neither. Quite the opposite, really.
In his book How Hitler Could Have Won World War II, Bevin Alexander calls this “Hitler’s first great error.” He writes:
At this moment, Adolf Hitler changed the direction of the battle – and the war. If he had allowed the Luftwaffe to continue its blows to the sector stations, Sea Lion [the plan for a ground invasion] could have been carried out and Hitler could have ended the war with a swift and total victory. Instead, he made the first great blunder in his career, a blunder so fundamental that it changed the course of the entire conflict – and set in motion a series of other blunders that followed in its wake. (page 41)
All because Hitler’s foolish anger dominated his decisions. If he’d only kept his cool, World War II could have ended quite differently. On the flip side, perhaps if he’d kept his cool, World War II never would have happened!
The Foolishness of Much of Our Anger
Scripture warns repeatedly about the foolishness often associated with our anger. For example, Proverbs 14:17a, “A man of quick temper acts foolishly…” And Proverbs 14:29, “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” This was one of Hitler’s great character flaws, one for which we can be profoundly grateful.
In the Bible, we see men and women illustrating this flaw too. There’s Jonah, perhaps the angriest prophet of the Old Testament. He hates the Assyrians and refuses God’s command to go to Nineveh. When he finally goes and preaches, the Ninevites repent and God spares them from his judgment. Chapter 4 begins with these arresting words, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” God then confronts Jonah about his anger. Jonah believes his anger to be justified, that he “does well to be angry.”
The Bible doesn’t say that anger in itself is necessarily sinful. There is a righteous anger (Eph. 4:26). After all, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Ps. 7:11). If the holy God can be angry, it isn’t sinful in itself. The problem is that sin is so deceptive and we, like Jonah, so easily justify our anger. Anger is something quickly rationalized. When I’m angry, it’s almost always righteous and seldom sinful.
There’s only ever been one man whose anger was always justified. The one “greater than Jonah” is the only human being who had and has only righteous anger. Jesus cleansed the temple, overturning the money-changers’ tables – he did it out of a righteous, zealous anger which consumed him. In Mark 3, Christ met the man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath. When he saw the hardness of heart of the Jews, “he looked around at them with anger” (Mk. 3:5). Christ’s justified anger is also a future reality. In Revelation 6:16, the wicked trying to hide from God’s judgment call to the mountains and rocks, begging them to fall on them and hide them from “the wrath of the Lamb.”
Being More Careful and Wise with Anger
The Bible teaches us to be careful around anger. It’s often been said that ‘anger’ is one letter away from ‘danger.’ So, how can we be more cautious with our anger? How can we steer away from foolish and unjustified anger? At the same time, how can we ensure there’s a place for wise and justified anger in our lives?
Much could be said, but let me just trace out an answer. First, configure your identity as a disciple of Jesus. If you’re a disciple, you want to be like your Master. To be like your Master, you need to study his character. When it comes to anger, what sorts of things got him angry? What sorts of things get you angry? See any contrast? Second, rely on God’s grace and help to conform you more and more to Christ. The way you express that reliance is through constant prayer for the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Fits of anger” are described in Galatians 5:19 as one of the works of the flesh. But the fruit of the Spirit is in things like peace, patience, gentleness, and self-control. Pray for that fruit to manifest itself to greater degrees.
You also ought to be aware how anger can be a symptom of a mental health issue. Clinical depression often comes out in anger, especially with men. If you find yourself regularly losing it in an irrational way, you might want to talk to your doctor. There could be a medical issue involved for which there’s treatment available.
So much of our anger is foolish and sinful. But thanks be to God, the gospel is enough to address it. We have a Saviour who always had perfect control over all his emotions and this obedience is ours when we believe in him. We have a Saviour who, on the cross, experienced God’s righteous anger against all our sins of unrighteous anger. Our Saviour now gives us richly of his Holy Spirit so we can more and more reflect him. The next time you feel anger welling up, think of Jesus and his ever-wise anger.