Note: This is Part 2 in a series of blog posts addressing the subject of anger—in particular sinful anger. Click the links for previous posts related to this series [Part 1].
Having introduced the subject of sinful anger, let us look at the 1st of the 6 subjects pertaining to sinful anger.
I. What is Anger?
Here is a simple definition: Anger is an active response toward an act we perceive as morally wrong. We all live by a set of standards that we perceive as right and wrong. And when a wrong occurs according to that standard, we express our emotions strongly. That is what anger is basically all about.
So, in its very basic sense, anger in and of itself is not sin. It is a God-given emotion to all human beings. However, the bible differentiates between what call as righteous anger and what we call as sinful anger.
Righteous Anger. Righteous anger is that emotion displayed when God’s moral law [i.e. standard of what is right and wrong according to God] as described in the Bible is broken. It is the anger that is a result of God being put to shame. It is an anger that is controlled.
The prophets in the Old Testament and the apostles in the New Testament at various times exhibited righteous anger. Jesus himself exhibited righteous anger [e.g. Cleansing of the Temple on two occasions—John 2:13-17; Matthew 21:12-13].
Similarly, we too can experience righteous anger. When the word of God is attacked—be it through blatant false teaching or through weak teaching, when evil is committed [e.g. abortion, rape, murder] are examples of circumstances where we can experience righteous anger. Yet, even in those circumstances, it is a controlled emotion that does not act out in a rash manner. In fact, we could say that God’s people do not often exhibit this righteous anger.
Sinful Anger. Sinful anger is not an issue of God’s moral law being broken. It is an anger that arises when we feel:
Our standards [or set of laws] are being broken;
We are being put to shame;
Things don’t happen according to our wishes;
We don’t get our way.
Basically, it’s frustration that rises when we feel our own needs or expectations are unmet. Yet, there is a tendency to justify our sinful anger as righteous anger. The Bible itself has examples from which two are given as illustration.
The first example pertains to Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi. Jacob and his family on their return to Canaan settle close to Shechem [Gen 33:18-19]. Unfortunately when Jacob’s daughter Leah went into the city, she was raped by Shechem who was the son of the ruler of that place [Gen 34:1-2]. A tragic incident indeed!
In response, Jacob’s sons trick the men of Shechem to undergo circumcision as a means for Shechem to marry Dinah [Gen 34:13-24]. However three days later, Simeon and Levi, went into the city and slaughtered all the males including Shechem and his father. Not only that, they looted the entire city and seized the animals and everything else in that city [Gen 34:25-29]. Later, we read that they even “hamstrung oxen as they pleased” [Gen 49:6]! Men who were innocent of the crime including animals were hurt by these 2 angry men.
When Jacob confronted their actions, notice their response, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” [Gen 34:31]. They justified their slaughtering of the males of an entire city as a righteous response to the sin of one man! It’s apparent that their anger was a sinful anger because Jacob did end up strongly rebuking their actions with these words, “Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” [Gen 49:7]!
The second example pertains to that of Jonah’s response to God granting mercy instead of judgement to the Ninevites who had repented of their evil [Jon 3:10]. Jonah’s response? “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry” [Jon 4:1]. In fact, he was so angry he told God these words, “Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live” [Jon 4:3].
Despite God in patience probing Jonah with the question, “Is it right for you to be angry?” not once but twice [Jon 4:4, 9], his stubborn response once again was, ““It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead”” [Jon 4:9]! He preferred death to life since God did not act according to Jonah’s standard of right and wrong. This was not a case of righteous anger but sinful anger justified as righteous anger!
You see, like Simeon, Levi and Jonah, our hearts can also easily deceive us into justifying our anger as righteous anger whereas in all reality it is simply an expression of our pride and self-centeredness. As long as we feel “right” to be mad, we will never see our anger as sinful anger which is very destructive by nature.
Yes, Jesus himself exhibited righteous anger. However, he was never characterized as one who was controlled by sinful anger. The words of Don Carson are helpful at this point:
“In none of the cases in which Jesus became angry was his personal ego wrapped up in the issue. More telling yet, when he was unjustly arrested, unfairly tried, illegally beaten, contemptuously spit upon, crucified, mocked, when in fact he had every reason for his ego to be involved, then, as Peter says, ‘he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats (1 Peter 2:23). From his parched lips came forth those gracious words, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). Let us admit―by and large, we are quick to be angry when we are personally affronted and offended, and slow to be angry when we see sin and injustice multiply in other areas.”
Let us be quick to repent when we exhibit sinful anger and fail to exhibit righteous anger.
And with that said, we will look at the 2nd subject, “What is source of sinful anger?” in our next post.