Being Angry and Good
God created anger to be an integral part of our humanity. Along with other powerful emotions like fear and grief, God designed anger to be a valuable force in our life. Fear alerts us to imminent danger. Grief soothes the agony of personal loss. Anger responds to obstacles that threaten us. When we find ourselves in a frustrating situation, an angry reaction instinctively begins to stir. God wants us to use this surge of emotion. It mobilizes us to meet challenges and equips us to overcome obstacles to what is right and good.
As part of our human makeup, anger is not wrong in itself. It is sometimes good. But how can we tell good anger from bad anger? Few of us may have had any experience of righteous anger. For the most part, we don’t know how to handle it well. A scripturally based rule of thumb can help us distinguish between kinds of anger.
Anger is good if we direct it against wrong-doing and control its expression. Anger is bad if we direct it against something good; or if we allow it to get out of control or to control us; or if we use it to express dissatisfaction at not getting our own way. A biblical illustration fleshes out the distinction. In Mark, chapter 3, Jesus dealt with Scribes and Pharisees who opposed him and who grasped at any evidence to use against him. Because of their hardness of heart, they interpreted the law in a way that would prevent the healing of deformities on the Sabbath. Jesus plainly condemned this attitude. He became angry and directed his anger at them as he prepared to heal a man with a withered hand.
The Lord’s anger arose as a natural response to a difficult situation. It gave him a tool to deal with those who opposed a good act he intended to perform. His anger was righteous in that he directed it against the wrongdoing of the Scribes and Pharisees. Mark says that “he looked around at them with anger” (Mk 3:5). With this deliberate gesture of anger, the Lord reprimanded them. He controlled his angry response. It did not control him.
A Tool for Good
As a young man I had never experienced a deliberate righteous expression of anger. It was not that I never became angry. To the contrary, I got angry a lot, but rarely for the right reasons. A turning point occurred when I witnessed someone stir up anger to bring a person to repentance. My responsibilities as a leader in several Christian groups put me in situations involving someone’s serious personal wrongdoing.
One night many years ago, another leader asked me to accompany him while he confronted someone about a pattern of sinful behavior. The meeting was cordial, The leader discussed the matter fairly. His demeanor radiated kindness and generosity, but also firmness. After about an hour-and-a-half of conversation, the man brushed off the reproof, refused to repent, and resisted my friend’s recommendations for change.
Suddenly, just after the man made a polite but definitive refusal, my friend’s demeanor changed dramatically. His face flushed with rage and he shouted, “I am so mad at you I could spit. Once again you are rejecting sound advice! Don’t you know the ultimate consequences you’re bringing on yourself?” This display of anger unnerved the other man, but he held his ground. Although shaken, he clung to his position and the meeting ended.
But the next day he began to do the things the leader told him to do to repair his wrongdoing. The angry concluding statement had evidently hit home. I asked my friend if his anger had erupted spontaneously. “No,” he said, “I was quite frustrated. I decided then that I would stir up anger to motivate the man to act.” In this case, his anger prodded the other man to repent.
Righteous anger expresses an appropriate response to sin in a controlled way. Or we can say that anger is righteous when it responds to a situation with love. The Lord commands us to love one another just as he loved us. Determining what this means at any particular moment often challenges us.
Hard things like corrections, angry reprimands or reproofs do not at first seem very loving. But love demands the best interest of the other and cannot tolerate the self-destructive consequences the wrongdoing incurs. When sinful behavior ensnares someone, an angry word that brings repentance may show more love than a word of kindness.