Wrath is defined as “intense anger.” The Catholic Encyclopedia says that it is a desire of vengeance and that “it becomes sinful when it is sought to wreak vengeance upon one who has not deserved it, or to a greater extent than it has been deserved, or in conflict with the dispositions of law, or from an improper motive.”
How can we know when anger turns into sin? Even Jesus became angry in the temple and drove the moneylenders out with a whip. The Bible says that Jesus was without sin. Ephesians 4:26 recommends, “In your anger, do not sin.” James 1:19 warns, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
It’s a good bet you’re going to get angry in your life. It’s how you handle that anger that determines whether it is a sin or not. In Dante’s “Inferno,” the wrathful are punished in the Fifth Circle of Hell by fighting each other while the sullen gurgle beneath the surface of the water.
Moses — a Man of God Whose Anger Cost Him the Promised Land
One of the key figures in the Old Testament is Moses. This man spoke to God. He received the Hebrew law, what we know today as the Torah, from God. What most people don’t remember is that Moses had a temper. In Exodus 2, Moses killed an Egyptian man who was beating a Hebrew. Moses tried to hide his sin, but Pharaoh found out and tried to kill Moses. Moses fled from Egypt into Midian and married his wife. It’s here where the angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the form of a burning bush.
In Exodus 5, Moses becomes angry with God because the Hebrews are mistreated. The Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh to free the Hebrews, but all that happened was more trouble. God promises Moses that the Israelites will be redeemed from the Egyptians. Moses was allowed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
Once the Israelites were free, Moses went on the mountain to get God’s law. He spent 40 days and nights on the mountain listening to the Lord. While Moses was on the mountain, the Israelites, led by Aaron, Moses’ brother, crafted a gold calf to be their god. Now God was angry. Exodus 32:10 says, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.” Ironically, it is Moses that begs God not to be angry toward the people.
Moses leads the people through the good and bad times. In Numbers 20, the Israelites are grumbling and complaining about not having water. God tells Moses to gather the people and speak to a rock to give everyone a drink. Moses lost his temper and struck the rock. This small act of anger caused God to tell Moses that he wouldn’t lead the people into the Promised Land.
On the surface, the act of striking the rock doesn’t seem like a great act of wrath or anger. Numbers 20:12 says, “God said to Moses and Aaron ‘you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites.’” Moses murdered a man early in his career and that wasn’t enough to keep God from using him. One bout of anger after all he went through cost Moses the Promised Land.
How Can We Judge Anger?
Anger is often seen as a negative emotion, and it certainly can be destructive. When anger is opposed to justice, it becomes sinful. Don’t let anger end in regret. But don’t suppress anger, because it can tell you that something is wrong. Use your anger to make positive changes.