Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Righteous anger

Righteous anger. At first, it may sound like an oxymoron. After all, anger is a dangerous emotion that can cause immeasurable damage in the family, in the church, in society, and in the soul. The Bible issues a severe warning to all of us in Proverbs 29:22: “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.” Far from being a virtue or effective manipulative tactic, the Bible says a quick temper is a sure sign of foolishness and spiritual weakness. Nevertheless, the Bible also teaches that when we are angry at the right things, and angry in the right ways, our anger is both appropriate and righteous.

There are four reasons I believe in the existence of a “righteous anger.” First, because God commands us not to sin when we get angry. In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” The fact that Paul permits his readers to “get angry, and not sin,” confirms there is such a thing a righteous anger. But that anger must be dealt with and given over to God very quickly, so that it does not become a foothold for Satan in our lives.

Second, we know there is a righteous anger, because God Himself is an angry God. In Deuteronomy 1:34, it says that after Israel grumbled in the wilderness and failed to trust God to bring them into Canaan, “the LORD heard the sound of their words, and He was angry and took an oath [against them].” This was not a rare, one-time flash of His temper, for Psalm 7:11 says “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.” Of course, God’s anger is directed at evil, and anyone or anything that robs Him of the glory He is due. We learn from God’s anger that our anger is only righteous if we are angry against sin and injustice. Getting angry because our personal needs, comforts, and “rights” are violated falls short of God’s righteous standard of anger.

Sometimes, God asks people if they have good reason to be angry. This is a third piece of evidence for righteous anger. God does not rebuke people for being angry, per se, but for being angry for the wrong reasons. In Jonah 4:4, God asks the prophet, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” In this case, Jonah did not. But we can see that God used this emotion as a door into Jonah’s heart, to counsel Jonah about his misplaced values and priorities. The emotion of anger is not inherently wrong, but the cause must be biblical if it is to be a righteous anger.

Lastly, we know righteous anger exists because there are many people in Scripture who exemplify a righteous anger. This would include Jesus cleansing the temple (Jn. 2:13f); Moses shattering the tablets over the idolatry of Israel (Ex. 32:19); and Nehemiah at the usury of the Jewish officials (Neh. 5:6). A more modern example would be William Wilberforce’s outrage over the atrocities of the slave trade. Each of these people were angry at things that made God angry, and expressed that anger in ways approved by God’s Word.

So, when you are strongly displeased, and your pulse quickens, how do you know if your anger is righteous or unrighteous? Here are several questions you should prayerfully ask:

• Am I slow to anger, and hard to provoke? (Ecc. 7:9; 1 Cor. 13:5; Jam. 1:19)
• Am I angry about something which make God angry?
• Are my thoughts, motives, and desires God-centered rather than self-centered?
• Am I responding with self-control, and in ways approved by God’s Word? (Gal. 5:22-23)
• Am I giving this over quickly to God and not allowing it to ferment and fester? (Eph. 4:26-27)

If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, then your anger may be a righteous, constructive kind of anger. But even so, recognizing the danger of anger, “let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

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