I recently started doctoral classes alongside a couple dozen other pastors. In a discussion we were having on shepherding, I asked a question of the professor about when it honors the Lord to get angry. I felt sort of stupid later as I had to rephrase the question a number of times, and in the end had it mostly passed by. It seemed like a legitimate question to me. I had just received information about good friends and ministry partners who had been devastated by sin. I was angry … righteously angry, I think!
We come to Matthew 21 where Jesus cleanses the Temple and we are uncomfortable with his anger. We find ways to explain it to the glory of God – Zeal for His Father’s house, a passion for holiness, and things like that. Yet it’s almost as if we feel the need to make excuses for Jesus not being the meek and mild guy holding sheep and touching the heads of children. My friends, I think we have t0 get a better grasp on this one. We get angry for all the wrong reasons, and not angry when we should be.
Too Quick to Anger
The Psalmist repeatedly commends the patient nature of God to us – “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalms 145:8). James correctly warns us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). No doubt the heart of God is full of grace to His own. He is patient with us wayward rascals, and we are to likewise “be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). We get angry over all the wrong things. That person doesn’t treat us respectfully and our pride lashes out. The situation spins wildly out of control and we look for someone to blame. Or maybe we just feel afraid, and anger makes it feel easier (and safer) to deal with the things we have no control over. Whatever the case may be, we do choose anger far too quickly … yes you choose it!
Too Slow to Anger
But back to my classroom question. My concern is how rarely we get angry about the ravishing effects of sin on image-bearers. I’ve been doing ministry long enough to see my share of trauma, abuse, abandonment, hypocrisy and lies. It makes me mad. It makes me want to “flip tables over” when I see the damaging effects of sin on people I care about. So does the Bible have much to say about this? I think it does, but we feel really uncomfortable with this emotion. Take for example the section of Psalms called the imprecatory Psalms. “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them” (Psalms 69:24). We see the honest cries of men who saw the injustice and mistreatment of people and called out for God to judge. They fought taking matters into their own hands, but responded with the holy heart of God. They cared about God’s glory, as well as the destructive evil of personal and corporate sin in those around them. Wasn’t this what fueled the righteous anger of Jesus too?
Switch Up Your Anger
We seem to have it all backwards. Most people get angry and sin, rather than seeing sin and getting angry. Of course this is dangerous territory because we don’t always see so clearly. It is a hazy line sometimes between being impacted by people’s sin and responding in the flesh, or seeing sin’s effects and righteously responding with a Spirit-filled passion. Solomon provides a helpful warning – “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). What starts as a good compassionate response can lodge in bad places that fuel sinful anger. Be careful, but be bothered. As lovers of God, we need to not only have God’s heart of patience and grace, but God’s heart for those we love who are deeply impacted by the wickedness of sin. I encourage you to wrestle with this one a step further in your own life, friendships, and ministry.