When I’m wronged by another person, I often feel like I have a free pass when it comes to my response. They started it, they’re the jerk that did X, Y, or Z, and I can respond however the heck I want. I’m the victim, and therefore my anger is justified. At the worst, I’m evening the score, and if I go a little overboard, that’s OK. They deserve what’s coming to them.
I’ve been hanging out on Twitter a little, but there are so many angry people there. It happens on all sides of the political spectrum. Donald Trump is such a terrible person that you can say and retweet anything about him that you want, because he deserves it. Or you love Trump so much that you defend everything he says, and anyone who disagrees becomes the enemy. If you feel attacked, you can retaliate with your own mean tweets. I’ve seen Christians that retweet someone else, simply to mock them. Don’t miss how awful this person is!
Are we allowed to get angry if that anger is justified, and if so, how do we know it’s justified?
How We Justify Our Anger
Often times I justify my anger towards someone because I compare myself to them. They’re not only wrong, but that makes me better than them. I’m not perfect, but I don’t come anywhere close to how bad this person is, and therefore I have the moral high ground. I get to set them straight. I get to stand up to them. I’m doing the world a favor!
We end up deceiving ourselves to justify our anger. If I can judge that person to be less than myself, and a bigger sinner than I am, then I think my anger is coming from a good place. In these situations, I think the sin our anger produces is pretty obvious. If I’m upset at someone, and my anger leads to contempt, then my anger is not righteous.
Sometimes we tell ourselves that our anger is a positive thing, because we can turn around and use it to make good things happen. Whether it’s a bad person, or an injustice in the world, our anger can be a tool for good. If that’s true, when is it true? How do we walk this line of being angry when necessary, but without sin?
Righteous Anger vs Sin-Filled Anger
Anger can be a dangerous emotion, and the bible warns us about it. Anger is for fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Get rid of your anger and rage (Colossians 3:8). Refrain from anger (Psalm 37:8). Clearly anger isn’t a great emotion that we should pursue.
But we see Jesus get angry when the religious leaders cared more about themselves than healing someone (Mark 3:4-5), or at those buying and selling in the temple (Matthew 21:12). So anger in and of itself isn’t sinful, but it’s what we choose to do after we get angry that matters. Jesus healed the man in Mark while he was angry. He flipped the tables in the temple because it was a house of prayer, not an excuse to sell pigeons and make a quick buck. Jesus’ anger looks very different from ours usually does, because his anger is righteous.
As a husband and a dad, my anger is rarely righteous. When I lose my temper at the kids for not brushing their teeth, even though I’ve told them 20 times…that’s not righteous anger. When my wife and I disagree, and I use it later to get even…that’s not righteous. All too often our anger has a way of drowning out grace. We get angry because we want justice. We want to right wrongs, we want people to pay for what they’ve done and balance out the scales.
Jesus suffered and died on a cross for the very people who put him there. If God’s grace can cover those people, and the sins of the rest of us, then my “right” to be angry starts to look really unconvincing. I don’t deserve to be angry…I deserve a cross.
In Light of the Vegas Shooting
I started writing this post before the Vegas shooting, and I’m now finishing it a few days after. One of the immediate reactions I have to horrific evil like this is anger. Watching the videos of people running for their lives as machine gun fire rains down and echoes off the buildings…each image makes me hate the man who did this more and more. On 9/11, before I even knew who was flying those planes…I hated them. I get why I’m angry. What happened is so unbelievably not fair. None of the people who died deserved what happened to them. The survivors that will have to live the rest of their lives with the memories of seeing people all around them gunned down…they don’t deserve that.
But do I get to stay angry? Do I get to hate the man who did this?
I’m not sure I do. Jesus loves the man who did this. I’m sure he doesn’t love what he did, but he died for him just as much as he died for the rest of us. So how do I reconcile this human desire to hate evil and be angry, with Jesus’ command to love my enemies (Luke 6:27)?
Maybe instead of staying angry and harboring contempt, I should grieve? Maybe I should pray for the families of those killed, as well as the family of the killer? Maybe I should want God’s love to win over everything else, my anger included? Sadness seems like a better emotion than hate. I can see love growing out of our sadness and our grief, but I don’t see love growing from our hate.
God, Watch My Heart
I think there is a time and place for righteous anger, but what we do about it matters. Do we hold on to our anger and use it to righteously beat people over the head, or do we use our anger to love people and bring them closer to God? The abortion epidemic makes me angry, but that should lead me to love people in a way that changes our culture’s moral view of abortion, not picket and yell at people. When I see people being mistreated, that anger should create in me a desire to help them.
But righteous anger isn’t seen in a petty tweet. It’s not in a well thought out insult that puts someone else in their place. It’s not about lumping people into a category based on their race or religion, and then maligning them to further our own purposes. Human anger is a dangerous emotion. If I want my anger to be something good that points to God, that means letting go of the grudges I hold, or the snarky comments I can’t wait to make.
So God, help me to love my enemy, and those that do wrong to me. You loved me first, and in light of that love, there isn’t much I deserve to be angry about. Give me the strength to extend grace, because you extended it first. A grace I didn’t deserve.