In regards to anger, I have good news and some bad news. First the good news: there is nothing wrong with being angry. Anger is a normal, healthy emotion. It is even necessary for justice to preside as well as for our very survival. The bad news is that it is not ok to express it whenever and however we want. Letting it out can prove to be detrimental to our health, well-being, safety, and even our very lives. According to a study at Stanford University, explosive outbursts can lead to the formation of blood clots. And we know all-to-well that one clot to the heart or brain can be deadly. Inappropriate anger can damage relationships, reputations, get us fired from our jobs, cause destruction of property, injure others emotionally or physically, and even land us in jail. Suppressing anger has its drawbacks as well. It can manifest as all sorts of physical health issues ranging from migraines, high blood pressure, and colitis to cancer and more. Emotionally, repressed anger can result in depression, moodiness, sadness, and an overall dissatisfaction with life, just to name a few.
Even with a laundry list of potential quandaries, anger still has a vital function in our lives. Like all emotions, it is a messenger and in this regard alerts us to the fact that something is wrong; that something or someone does not meet our standards of acceptability. For example, I may become angry if I see one child being given special treatment over others. This creates an inequity that violates my moral principles, causing me to become concerned, angry or irate. This is a good thing. However, it’s only when I express or use my anger in a destructive manner does it become problematic. Ideally, I convert my anger into positive actions which will help to rectify the situation.
But how can we be certain that our anger is appropriate and righteous as opposed to corrupt or immoral? For clarity and guidance, I rely on the Word of God found in the Bible.
In Proverbs 12:16 we are told that anger and foolishness go hand-in-hand: “Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults”. In addition to insults, there are a host of perceived offenses that we can choose to ignore rather than respond to. If someone tells me my children are poorly behaved, I need not retaliate with a cutting remark. I can consider the possible truth to their comments or simply let it go without taking personal offense.
God does permit His people to get upset while still remaining faithful to Him. For example, Nehemiah (5:6) got angry after learning about the wealthy Israelites’ exploitation of the poor: “Then I was very angry when I had heard these words.” He became irate at their ungodly behavior and the injustices being perpetrated against those less fortunate. God calls upon us to care for all of His children equally. In this instance, the Israelites were in violation of Divine Law.
Even Jesus expressed anger at the Pharisees who exhibited indifference. In Mark 3:1-5 “Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there… Jesus said to the man…, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. ” Jesus was incensed at the lack of compassion for the suffering of another human being and their unwillingness to get him the care he so rightly deserved. Anger that violates God’s Law of love and concern for another is righteous anger. To become enraged over the sinfulness of others is acceptable in God’s eyes.
As a Christian or anyone who truly believes in and loves our Lord, we are expected to react strongly to such issues as abuse, racism, abortion, pornography, infidelity, oppression, murder, poverty, greed, and war – to any activity or belief not founded in love and kindness, the very tenets of God’s Being. However, the justification of our feelings does not give us license to act out in anger or aggression. I am given authority to condemn an activity but not the individual committing it. “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Ephesians clearly dictates righteous anger in Chapter 4:26 “When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day.” There is no justification ever for responding with hostility, rudeness, or assaults of any kind.
One’s motives and intent behind the emotion and behaviors is a key to determining when anger is permissible by God: Is my intent to help or harm the other party? Do I seek to make the circumstances better for all parties or only myself or a chosen few? Am I fighting to be right or to do what is right? These are critical questions in determining when anger is acceptable and appropriate; when it is virtuous rather than sinful. In this regard, these same questions give us pause to determine if a situation is even worthy of our ire. James 1:19 reminds us: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” Applying my 10 year rule (“Will I remember this issue in 10 years and if I do, will it even matter?”) is a powerful tool to measure the worthiness of the incident. The SWaT Strategy* can easily prevent anyone’s anger from overpowering them and causing an sinful reaction.
Again, one is not expected to ignore those times when we feel angry. However, we must be certain to refrain from retaliation and respond with redemptive action instead. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26–27). Whether in our families, communities or regarding global issues, we can speak up or join organizations working on correcting life’s inequities. On a more personal level, we must always be stewards of virtue, being an extension of God’s presence and love in this world. In everything we say or do, with every individual we encounter, we must be love. After all, it is not only what is expected of us but it is who we are – it is the very essence of our nature.
Paul gives us some sound advice on the appropriate approach: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary we are instructed: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21). In this way, we can stop the cycle of anger and aggression and show others the moral path to salvation.
Righteous anger aligns with what would anger God Himself – when we are confronted with sin, that which violates Divine Law. It is directed at sinful behaviors and unmistakable injustice; it does not attack or degrade those committing the offense. (Love the sinner, hate the sin.)This is a critical distinction to make that few are able to apply. Typically, we attack the egregious person and demean them rather than staying focused on their actions. A child who fights with their sibling needs to be shown the righteous path. “You are a bad child! You are horrible!” does not educate the child but rather instills shame within them. “This is your little brother. It’s very hurtful to him when you treat him unkindly and that is wrong. You are to always be kind and loving to him. Here’s how to do that.” In this way, the parent shows their child the errors of his ways and puts him on the path to being more loving. This is using anger in a positive way. If our outrage results in bringing others into a loving and restorative relationship with God and it is done so with great care and concern, it’s righteous indignation.
For anger to be righteous, it cannot arise in response to a violation of my personal preferences, that is that I have been inconvenienced or I feel that my rights and freedoms have been violated or because someone has offended me. It reacts against that which is actually sinful. Additionally, it is accompanied by Godly actions. We do not use words, tone of voice, facial expressions, or our hands to hurt the other person. We express ourselves in a respectful manner which does not involve cursing, making fun of, ignoring, yelling, intimidating, threatening, any form of physical violence. It is thoughtful of the other person’s feelings and seeks to make a positive difference. Proverbs 15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”
1.Righteous anger reacts against actual sin. It is the result of an accurate perception of true evil, from sin as defined biblically, i.e., as a violation of God’s Word). Righteous anger does not result from merely being inconvenienced or from violations of personal preference or human tradition.
2.Righteous anger focuses on God and His kingdom, rights, and concerns, not on me and mine. It identifies offenses against God and His name, not me. Viewing something as offensive is not enough. It must be offensive to God.
3.Righteous anger is accompanied by other Godly qualities and expresses itself in Godly ways. It remains self-controlled, avoids cursing, screaming, raging, or flying off the handle. It is not consumed with self-pity or despair. It does not ignore people, snub them or withdraw from people. It is always respectful, thoughtful, kind, firm, and fair.
Remember, anger is an acceptable emotion if in fact it is generated from a morally offensive action and is expressed in a manner consistent with God’s Way. Righteous anger can be a powerful force for creating a society of high moral integrity and true justice for all.
Q: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” Romans 12:19–21
* The Secret Side of Anger by Janet Pfeiffer
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