Here’s Ian from Ann Arbor, MI, with an excellent question, especially given the summer we have experienced in the States. He asks, “Pastor John, when approaching controversial issues such as abortion or homosexuality with my friends, I’ve always been very careful. Even if something like abortion makes me very angry, I try my best not show any of it, because I’m worried that my anger will be misinterpreted.
“However, Jesus makes a chord of whips and violently drives out the moneychangers during the Passover. This definitely sounds like something that can be misleading — people could see Jesus as unreasonable or as someone who uses violence to get his way. Jesus’s behavior confuses me. Should we get angry at these sins that we see in culture in the presence of others?”
Let me turn the tables on Ian and suggest that feeling and expressing appropriate anger about, say, abortion or whatever injustice, may communicate more truth about God, about the Christian faith, about Scripture, and about Christ than the absence of anger communicates.
Ian says, “I am worried that my anger will be misinterpreted.” And I am turning the tables and asking, “Are you equally worried that the absence of anger might be misinterpreted?” Or the positive way to ask it is, “Is it possible that good anger and good expressions of anger could communicate more truth than the absence of anger?”
Now I did think of seven or eight ways that feeling and expressing appropriate anger might communicate more truth about an injustice and about God’s relation to injustice and about the Christian’s relation to injustice than a cool and emotional discussion without anger of the injustice. And I am going to mention those.
But before I mention them, it is important to own up to what is being felt here, what Ian is concerned about. It is important to mention that not all anger is good. In fact, most of it is contaminated — so contaminated that James says the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:20). And, therefore, he says, “Be slow to anger” (James 1:19). And Paul says, “Put away anger” (Ephesians 4:31).
I know from experience, and we know now from the Bible, that lots of our anger — I would probably say most of our anger — is contaminated with fear and insecurity and ego and defensiveness and selfishness. It is just ugly stuff behind most of our anger. But once we do our best to get that log out of our angry eye, we hear that God is a God of anger, we hear that Jesus got angry, and we read Ephesians 4:26: “Be angry and do not sin.”
We know that we can’t sweep all anger away.
I am not saying we should give vent to all the stuff that may rise up within us since some of it may be very selfish and vain and rooted in fear and insecurity. I am saying that when we have admitted to ourselves and to others and to God that we are so imperfect and we have done our best to take the log out of our eyes the best we can, there is a place to feel and express anger when we see God’s name dishonored and people destroyed.
I am suggesting that there may be as much miscommunication that Ian is so concerned about in the absence of that anger when conversing with friends as there is in the expression. So here are seven or eight provocative questions for Ian to ask:
Eight Questions about Anger
1. Might this appropriate anger not show people how to be angry who have only had hurtful experiences of anger?
It may be that our friends have never seen well managed anger — anger that is real, well grounded, yet not out of control and, therefore, not about to hurt somebody. This may be a great gift to them and a great revelation to them. If the only anger they know is the explosive, beat-your-wife-up anger, your demonstration of another kind could be a sweet gift.
2. Might our anger show that good and controlled and righteous anger can rise from a concern for others and not just be owing to our own private lives being frustrated?
Most people feel anger when their personal plans are messed up by other people, and showing a measured anger over someone else being hurt. You may model for them something true that they have never seen before.
3. Might your anger possibly show that there is an anger that goes hand in hand with love for those who we are angry at?
My guess is that most people have never seen this or experienced it, anger at someone combined with love for someone — that is, combined with the desire that they not be ruined. In other words, yes, we want anger until they are brought to justice, but then we offer mercy from God and hope they become our brother or our sister and spend eternity with us.
4. Might our anger reveal the truth that righteous anger can coexist with sorrow and a broken heart?
I am thinking now of sorrow over the victims or even the perpetrators. This is not exactly the same as saying that love can coexist with anger. My point here is to show the unusual emotional experience of anger and pity coexisting. I think most people experience or see anger that consumes almost all other good emotions. It just devours them like a monster so that the only thing that happens in the home is anger. You don’t get anger coexisting with tenderhearted pity. That is just unheard of. But could we model that? Can we reveal that greater truth?
5. Might our anger reveal the amazing truth that anger does not have to dominate or control the whole of life?
I think most people experience anger in such a way that infects almost everything they do. It sweeps through their day and affects all of their relationships negatively. Could we reveal something different and show that there is a way to experience anger in a focused, limited way so that other parts of our lives aren’t overflowing with anger? For instance, when we get home, can we play with our kids? Can we really play with our kids in a carefree abandon with joy so that we don’t take anything away from what they need, even though we have just seen something we hate on the news?
6. Might not our expression of anger over an injustice — let’s just say abortion in this case — might not our expression of anger over abortion point to the goodness and the justice of God, whose prerogatives in the womb are being assaulted so that the anger doesn’t flow just from people being hurt, but from God being dishonored?
My guess is that most people have never seen anything like that. They don’t have any categories for that kind of anger. In other words, our anger may bear witness to the character of God who has created these little ones in his image and is knitting them together in the mother’s womb. When the lacerations and the chopping begins from the abortionist, it is not just the babies that are being shredded, but God is being assaulted as his knitting needles are pitched aside and his hands are being thrust back from what he has been doing there.
7. Might not our anger over an injustice possibly expose the indifference of our friends who feel nothing?
This might make them defensive. It might make them angry, yes. But it also may have a convicting effect when they realize, “You really care,” while they are all wrapped up in their video games. And God might be pleased to hear them say, “I think my life is pretty superficial. I don’t really care about what is going on in the abortion clinics.”
8. Finally, if we really have the mind of Christ in our anger, might not our anger be a witness to the fact that the justice and compassion that Christians feel is not just limited to abortion?
We should express anger — appropriate, well grounded, limited, controlled, real anger — not just over the horror of abortion, but for the poor in countries where corruption in leaders lines the pockets of the rich, but leaves the poor with no powers of productivity or angry at police corruption when you see a man shot in the back by police when he is running away or a woman tasered to death while handcuffed and shackled in prison or any number of injustices in the world. If we show a suitably expressed anger, maybe we will be bearing witness to the fullness of God’s concerns rather than show a narrow partisan kind of anger.
So I am just suggesting to Ian that he not only ask how his anger might be misinterpreted, but also ask how the absence of his anger might be misinterpreted and how the presence of well managed anger for all those reasons might bear witness to more truth than he had thought.
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