Fri 24 Feb
5 Responses to Justifications for Anger
At The Meeting House, we are currently working through a series on peace - starting with inner peace.
Part of that teaching is admitting that in many circles, anger has been idolized as an important motivation to work for social justice. And we are smashing that idol.
Whenever I teach on the New Testament ethic about anger/wrath (Greek, orge) – you know, the fundamental teaching that anger is unhealthy and unacceptable for a disciple of Jesus – I always receive the same standard push back. (There really is nothing new under the sun.)
A) But Jesus was angry.
B) But it’s human to be angry.
C) But Ephesians 4 says it's okay to be angry.
D) But the Bible says "righteous indignation" is a good thing and indignation means anger.
E) But without anger, what will motivate us to fight injustice?
We really seem to work overtime to find creative excuses to hold onto our perceived right to be angry. It's worth asking ourselves why that is. Especially when the Bible is so clear and so consistent – anger is sin.
For now, let's look at these five excuses, these five “big buts”…
A) “But Jesus got angry.” Yes he did, and that's the point. Jesus is the judge, Jesus is God, and we are not. The Bible says consistently that human anger is wrong because anger is the emotion associated with judgement and we are not one another’s judge; God is. Yes sometimes Jesus shows us how to be human, but other times (like when he is worshipped or when he judges) he is showing us what God is like. We don't encourage people to worship us because Jesus received worship, and we don't sit in the seat of anger/wrath/judgement because Jesus did. That's the point. The Bible doesn't specify Jesus was angry when he judged the temple system (it does call him angry in another situation though), but even if it did, the point is, he is the judge and we are not. Jesus didn’t use his “temple tantrum” as a teachable moment. He never asked the disciples to join him in turning tables. He didn’t say, “Come on boys! Grab a table and flip it over, just like me!” Instead, they stood back and watched God's judgement fall. And so should we. Stop trying to do God's job.
B) “But it's human to be angry.” Yes anger is very human, as is lust and other things that we should not give into. No sensible Christian would argue, “But lust is very human, so we should make room for it, and steward it wisely.” Nnnope. It is very understandable that we will experience anger rising inside us in certain circumstances, but we shouldn't encourage it, rather we are called to turn away from it. There are many things that are natural for us that we are called to put away from us in favour of what is super natural. This isn't a theory, this is Bible 101 (Matthew 5:21-22; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8; etc). There is no anger listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Instead we are called to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Let's do what the Bible says and get rid of anger rather than trying to find excuses to hold onto it.
C) “But Ephesians 4 says it's okay to be angry.” Let's be accurate here: Ephesians 4:26-27 says anger is not a sin *IF* we get rid of it as soon as possible, otherwise it becomes satanic. (People like to quote the first part of that statement without following on to the rest of it.) And this is the most positive thing the New Testament say about anger: you can avoid turning anger into a sin if you get rid of it right away. That's the point of the passage. Get rid of anger as quickly as possible or else it plays into the devil's desire for us to try to become like God in ways we were never meant to be. That's the original temptation. And this is confirmed just a few verses later (Ephesians 4:31) when Paul goes on to say that Christians need to rid ourselves of all anger.
D) “But the Bible says 'righteous indignation' is a good thing and indignation means anger.” It’s true that in 2 Corinthians 7:11, Christian "indignation" is seen as a positive value, the result of godly sorrow. But what is indignation? That English word is a poor translation for aganakteo, a Greek word meaning "much grieving". It means to be intensely sad, not mad. Our love for the world should lead to our sorrow over sin, not our rage.
E) “But if we get rid of our anger, what will motivate us to fight injustice?” How about love? Love is strong enough and robust enough to do the work. Let’s admit it: we prefer anger because it feels self-righteous and we get a taste of sitting in the seat of judgement, but that's the wrong way to feel alive. Love is enough. Love will lead us to grieve for the world, to be filled with “aganakteo” (much sorrow), and to act on behalf of the oppressed. Love is enough. Let me say it again – love is enough.
You might be tempted to do what many Christians try to do at this point in the conversation – make one last maneuver, one last attempt to hold on to a modicum of anger. You might be tempted to think “Okay, good point, anger can be destructive for humans to hold onto, so this is a good warning for us to use it wisely.” Use it wisely? That isn’t what the Bible says to do with anger. But this thinking is widespread. I found this on a popular Christian web site: “Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. We can know for sure that our anger or indignation is righteous when it is directed toward what angers God Himself. Righteous anger and indignation are justly expressed when we are confronted with sin.” It sounds so good. It just isn’t biblical. How did we get from “get rid of all anger” (Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8) and “anger is like murder” (Matthew 5:21-22) to “anger is God’s gift to us, as long as we make sure we stay angry at the right kinds of things”?
There simply is zero justification for our Christian excuses to tolerate anger. Anger may rise up within us, just like lust, but that is our cue to lay it aside. If we do, it is merely temptation and not sin. But if we don’t, we invite the devil to manipulate our thinking further. If you notice that your mind is still trying to search for reasons why anger must be okay, stop and ask what is really going on and why you want to hold onto the right to be angry. Then pray that God fills you with his Spirit, and choose to partner with what we know the Spirit wants to do in you: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.