Identifying the Source of Your Anger
By Pastor Dale Thackrah
According to Scripture, not all anger is sinful; there is a kind of anger that is considered righteous. Ephesians 4:26 says, "Be angry and do not sin." However, it is very apparent that we struggle with the distinction of the differences between righteous and unrighteous anger. Perhaps it’s because we tend to view injustice as being perpetrated against the people we love or directly at us, and not chiefly against God. It seems we also wrongly label something as unjust because it interferes with our demands for comfort, respect, and all of those personal preferences we hold onto and insist be honored by all.
What is Righteous Anger?
Stated plainly, righteous anger is being angry at what makes God angry.
When we are angry, we must honestly identify if our anger is a result of another's sin against God, ourselves, or others. If our anger is truly righteous it means it is born out of our love and devotion for and to God, and not just ourselves. Even when this is the case, we must always be on guard to ensure that our anger does not lead us into a place of self-righteousness, revenge or hatred. As Proverbs 4:23 states, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
I love how Jon Bloom, an author for the ministry Desiring God, expresses his thoughts on this topic: "...'righteous anger' is the right order. Because God is not fundamentally angry, he is fundamentally righteous. God's anger is a byproduct of his righteousness." Bloom goes on to say, "So, what makes God angry is the perversion of his goodness; the turning wrong of what he made right. God calls this perversion, evil. Evil twists and disfigures God's glory, vandalizing what is most valuable, and profaning what is most holy. Evil poisons and distorts reality, resulting in the destruction of joy for every creature that chooses the perversion over God's good."
What is Unrighteous Anger?
"Know this, my beloved brothers: 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." - James 1:19-20
Nothing about the human condition points to righteousness. The truth is that our sinful nature is vile to a holy God. Because we are evil (Luke 11:13) human beings are never identified as righteous in the scriptures unless that righteousness is produced in us or through us by God the Father or the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). With any honest self-evaluation, it is an effortless pursuit to recognize that the only thing we are capable of producing in our flesh is what is contrary to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-21).
In the second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul states, "For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder (2 Corinthians 12:20)."
Any anger that is manifested through our flesh is by definition, unrighteous, or sinful. Which means, most of the time, our anger is more than likely, unrighteous. In addition, if it's true that most of our anger is of the unrighteous variety, then I would submit that following approach to deal with and combat our propensity for unrighteous anger:
The first thing we can do is recognize that when there is any injustice, it is primarily against God, not us. Taking responsibility for our sinful responses to the sin of others is achieved through confession (1 John 1:9). Confession is the initial step in getting in right position to follow Christ. We must also work to ensure that our judgment is not hypocritical, pointing out the speck in our brother's eye while having a log in our own (Matthew 7:3).
Jesus said the following in Matthew 5:43-45, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
Prayerfully we need to acknowledge the reality of the fallen state of this world and of our own hearts. We should be constantly asking God to cultivate a heart for the broken and lost. Remember that we too were enemies of God and the same gospel that we have responded to is available for those who are causing our anger.
We live in a culture where payback and revenge are very quick to come to our minds when we are angry. We allow anger to fuel and justify our actions in getting even with others. This of course is an anti-biblical response. Even as he hung from his cross, while his accusers mocked him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:24).”
Christians must accept and get comfortable with trusting in the God who says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay (Hebrews 10:30a).” It is not our role to exact revenge or to pay anyone back for their evil. Being a Christian is counter-cultural and our commanded response must be to submit to God’s word: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
The God who has every right to be angry is the same God that offers grace, mercy, and forgiveness. If we are indeed followers of his, then we will offer the same to anyone regardless if our initial response is righteous or unrighteous anger. We do so by not trusting in our flesh, but by believing that Jesus is the one who ultimately prevailed against all unrighteousness and that our lives are indeed hidden in him (Colossians 3:3).