Righteous Anger: Does it Exist?

What makes you angry? Maybe it starts with something small: a piece of clothing left on the floor by a spouse or child; a dish left on the table for the 100th time.  It may have been that somebody accidentally ate your lunch from the fridge at work. Or perhaps it was ignited by something a little more “righteous,” if you will, like an article you read on Facebook about a social cause you support. Like a spark in the fire, anger starts small but begins to slowly grow. It doesn’t take much to heap more wood on that anger with more scenarios and situations until the flame burns hot and becomes unapproachable. But fire is not a bad thing in every context. In some ways, it’s good and very necessary for survival. So when is anger a good thing? Can it ever be a good thing? Today, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about something called “righteous anger.”

The Bible is chock-full of anger, especially coming from God. What sort of things did God get angry at, then? My favorite example is in Exodus. Moses had just descended from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments when he discovered that the Israelites, in their impatience with Moses, built a golden calf to worship. How annoyed God must have been! What makes God angry? His anger always manifests when His goodness is perverted, in this case by the worship of an inanimate golden cow.

His anger has a very distinct characteristic, though. Exodus 34:6 says that God is “slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” His anger is a byproduct of His righteousness. The purpose of God’s righteousness, then, is to steer us away from the sin which destroys. His anger is for our benefit. Does that mean our anger, as long as it matches God’s model of righteous anger, is acceptable? What does righteousness even mean?

One of the best places to turn to learn more about righteousness is Matthew 5-7: the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus talks on a lot of issues here that pertain to our everyday living in righteousness. A key thing to remember with this whole section of scripture is this: Jesus is not preaching on righteousness as a moral conformity, as some Christians in today’s culture would believe. That’s right: Christianity isn’t about a cult of hippy peacemakers who simply adhere to a set of moral laws. We’re about something and someone much greater than that. Jesus is showing us that true righteousness is the transformation of the inward man. When Jesus talks about murder, he takes it a step further than just the outward action of killing someone: he gets to the root of the issue, which is anger within. By His teaching on the mount, He is showing us a freedom of the heart through Him that transforms external action.

Paul writes about this anger in Ephesians 4:26-27. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Notice that Paul also writes to go ahead and be angry, but in that anger, you have to be careful, lest it lead you give an opportunity to the devil and fall into sin. This goes back to the inward transformation that Jesus preaches on: an inward control of anger keeps you from falling into sins of hatred, envy, and especially murder. But we still need to look at Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:22, “if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!”

So, then, instead of seeking to being angry, even righteously, consider an alternative. Take a look at James 1. He says in verse 19 to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” Being slow to anger seems to be a bit of a challenge. I heard once from my favorite author, Bob Goff, that whenever he says a critical word, he has to donate $500 to a charity. Now, I don’t have $500 to drop like that, but I think that this raises a great point. Is your word of criticism or your anger worth it?

Instead of being angry, even if it is for a righteous reason, think of grieving instead. Honestly, if I were in Moses’ shoes, it would have grieved me to have seen the Hebrews worshipping a golden calf. That grief can actually lead one to act in compassion, rather than react in anger. In the Gospels we read of Jesus’ anger a few times, especially close to his death. During the last week of His life before the cross, Jesus discovered that the temple was being used as a marketplace. He got angry and overturned tables in the outer court. What we see here is not just a simple anger: Jesus has seen a perversion of His righteousness. The temple was to be a house of prayer; a place where we could communicate with our living breathing God. Jesus grieved because that opportunity to experience a living relationship with God was being stolen by thieves who’ve turned the house of prayer into a marketplace. Before Jesus overturned the tables, we read in John that he took the time to create a whip of chords. He responded in patience.

Brothers and sisters, there is no need to suppress your anger, but in wisdom, take time and respond to the actions that make you angry. Do not let you anger burn out of control. Rather, wield the spark of anger within you into a beautiful, glowing fire that still gives glory and honor to the Creator. Today, you can rejoice in your patient, righteously angry God: a God who seeks nothing but a solid, living relationship with you. He is a God who didn’t react to sin by destroying the world, but he responded to the problem in patience: waiting for the perfect time to send His son who would destroy the power of the devil permanently.

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