"Be angry and yet do not Sin" Eph. 4:56 (NARV)
A contentious assertion, certainly. But I believe we are in trouble because we do not get angry. Before someone rushes to put this heresy down, let me explain.
Whenever the Bible talks about anger, or shows us the consequences of anger, it is almost without exception a damaging experience - for whoever is angry as well as for their victim. And ye, the Bible does indeed teach that “the wrath of man works not the kingdom of God”.
When we speak of ‘anger’ we are almost always talking about loss of control, loss of compassion and loss of respect. Anger distorts our view of ourselves and of the one we are angry with. It is fuelled by self-interest, feeds off self-pity, and usually has a generous helping of self-righteousness in it. We get angry because we are hurt, disappointed, let down, even betrayed. There may well be genuine reasons why we feel these things, or they may be the product of offended ego and frustrated self-interest. Either way our angry reaction increases the damage, prevents healing and traps us into becoming part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
If at this point you re-read the title and ask if I'm not defeating my own assertion, think about this. It is true that Jesus was confronted by people who got angry for all the wrong reasons and their anger put him in Pilate’s judgment hall. But it is also true that Jesus himself got angry for all the right reasons and his anger put him in Pilate’s judgment hall.
People got angry with Jesus because he exposed what they were. He challenged them to change and they didn’t want to. Put simply, whenever he showed up, he showed them up! The remarkable thing about Jesus was not that he was without anger, but that he got angry for entirely different reasons and in an entirely different way.
Confronted by the mockery of ‘worship’ which the temple had become he got angry. Faced with the callousness of those who resented him for ‘breaking the Sabbath’ but had no feelings for the man who came every week with a deformed body, he got angry. However, to paraphrase a certain well-known science fiction series once so popular, ‘Its anger Jim, but not as we know it!’
Consider this……the search for a safe anesthetic, the struggle against slavery, the campaign to bring education to the poverty-stricken, the fight against all the attendant evils of too much alcohol poured into lives already slaves of poor health, slum housing, exhausting work regimes and pitiful pay. What were any of these but examples of those who looked at what sin was doing to people, what unrighteousness was doing to the world and finally said….not on this street, not in this town! The world needs more people who say ”Enough!”
Why is it that when we see our own plans, or reputations go up in smoke we get angry, but when we see people trapped and helpless because of their own or other’s wrongs, we don’t?
Confronted by lies, brutal self-interest and increasing hostility to God in a world which while bent, can still be beautiful, what we need is a clear-sighted anger which sees wrong for what it is and refuses to be fooled by its pathetic attempts to browbeat it’s opponents. We are neither ‘intolerant’ nor ‘prejudiced’. We are angry at what holds men down, sin’s graceless servitude. What we need in fact, is the right sort of anger.
It is of course a risk. It requires a pure heart. Are we concerned because it’s wrong, or because it’s in our way? Because it’s iniquitous, or because it’s inconvenient? Self-interest corrupts what we feel as our focus shifts from preserving the kingdom of God to preserving our own. But we are supposed to feel!
The disciples wanted to call fire down from heaven on people who had insulted their leader. Jesus roundly condemned them saying “You don’t know what kind of people you are”. The moment I challenge wrongdoing but lose sight of my own part in it – if not here, then somewhere else, if not this wrong, then another - at that moment I become guilty too. But if I see the worst that sin can do and feel no more than a theological interest, then I may keep my hands clean, but I am no part of the cure.
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