Originally published November 3, 2017
Do you ever get the sense that anger is a problem in the church these days? It’s more apparent if you’re on social media, but even if you’re not you’ve probably seen Christians acting in anger in your church and Christian groups you belong to. Maybe even among your Christian family and friends.
In the evangelical social construct today’s Christian women have built and immersed themselves in where “being nice” is the highest attribute we can attain to, anger – any anger whatsoever – is usually seen as sin. The antipode of the sweet, effervescent, always-positive, don’t-rock-the-boat church ladies we’re “supposed” to be.
Time to pick up the biggest rocks we can find and smash that pretty pink stained glass window, ladies.
The problem with anger in the church is not anger itself, but that Christians get angry about the wrong things instead of the right things, and act on that anger – sometimes even anger over the right things – in the wrong way. There are many things Christians should be angry about. Indeed, if Christians got angry about the things we’re supposed to get angry about and acted on that anger in a biblical way, the church would be better – and more Christlike – for it. But what are the right and godly reasons for getting angry and acting on that anger?
Anger Is an Attribute of God
No character trait God exhibits can ever be considered intrinsically sinful because God is holy and perfect. God displays anger numerous times in the Bible, yet we know God is without sin. Therefore, we know that the emotion of anger itself is not a sin. It can’t be, or that would make God a sinner, and, by definition, not God. God’s anger demonstrates for us that there are times and situations in which anger is holy and good, and that there are godly ways to act on that anger.
People are made in the image of God. The creation reflects – albeit dimly and sinfully – the Creator. No one has to teach us how to feel anger or love or justice or desire. Those things are just there, hard wired into us from the womb simply because we’re image bearers. Our sin nature is where the train jumps the tracks with those attributes, because sin causes us to apply those attributes to the wrong objects (loving an idol, desiring someone else’s spouse) and to express those attributes in wrong ways (vengeance, abuse).
God is simultaneously perfect in love, power, wrath, kindness, compassion, anger, justice, mercy, grace, patience, and all His other attributes. When we see Him pouring out His wrath, that doesn’t mean His attributes of love and compassion have disappeared. When God executes judgment, that doesn’t mean He has ceased to be a merciful and patient God. All of God’s attributes are 100% present and potent all of the time. And – though filtered through our sinful flesh – the same is true for Christians. Expressing anger over the right things in a godly way does not cancel out the fact that you’re also loving, kind, patient, peaceful, or joyful. God created us to reflect His nature by simultaneously exhibiting His attributes in a godly way.
How can we know whether we’re getting angry over the right things or the wrong things? It is right and good to be angry over the things that anger God – idolatry, the defaming of His name, false doctrine, sin in the church, people who harm or take advantage of the innocent and vulnerable, dishonesty, cruelty, deception, the failure to do what is right – first and foremost when we see these sins in our own hearts and lives, but also against others who perpetrate these sins. But we may not be angry for sinful reasons such as pride, selfishness, impatience, self-righteousness, inflexibility, greed, hate, bigotry, lust, and personal preferences. What the Bible shows God getting angry about we should be angry about, too.
Anger Versus Sadness
A few months ago on social media, I mentioned an incident in which a male member of a certain church sinfully took advantage of several female members of that church. Without exception, every Christian woman (and many of the men) who commented on the incident made the statement (or some variation of it), “That’s so sad.” There are many aspects of a sinful situation over which it’s appropriate to feel sad. It was right to feel sad for this man’s completely innocent wife and children, as well as his victims and the church, who all suffered as a result of his sin. Jesus wept over the effect sin had on His beloved Jerusalem and the rift that sin created between God’s people and Himself. But, interestingly, both Matthew and Luke show us an instance of Jesus’ sorrow over sin immediately preceding or followed by an instance of Jesus’ anger over sin. It’s fine to feel sad for the people who innocently suffer as a result of someone else’s sin. It’s godly to grieve over the general effects and ultimate consequences of sin. But don’t stop there. We should also be angry at sin and at those who blaspheme the name of God and harm others by committing sin. The biblical instances of God being angry over sin and those who perpetrate it far outnumber the instances of God grieving over the effects of sin. Sadness is good, but it shouldn’t replace godly anger toward sin.
Harness the Wild Stallion
Up until now, we’ve mostly been looking at the emotion of anger, but the emotion of anger usually leads to action. The fact that the emotion usually leads to action doesn’t mean the emotion always should lead to action. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action at all. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action right away. Sometimes it shouldn’t lead to action from you, but from a more appropriate person.
But most of the time, if you’re experiencing righteous anger over the right things, that godly anger should motivate you to take godly action using godly methods. And one of those godly methods is understanding the difference between letting the wild stallion of anger tear madly around the corral and putting a bit and bridle in its mouth to harness and guide all of that energy into plowing a field or pulling a wagon. Venting your anger to a friend might make you feel better temporarily, but it does nothing to fix the problems created by the sin you’re angry about. Harness your anger with the fruit of the Spirit and use that anger as a tool to energize and motivate you to help the victims of sin, call the sinner to repentance, set up a plan to prevent this sin from happening again, and repair the damage done by sin.
How often do you become righteously angry over sin? When you hear a false teacher twist God’s Word, do you blow it off as no big deal? Does it faze you at all when church members refuse to submit to your pastor’s biblical leadership? Do you lend an ear when your best friend verbally eviscerates her godly husband to you?
Ladies, there are things worth getting angry about. Righteous anger is not a bad, unloving, or unladylike thing. If someone intentionally hurt your child, you would come unglued because you love him so much. What does it say about our love for the Lord when we defend people who mock Him, give the benefit of the doubt to those who defame Him, or yawn apathetically when people rebel against Christ and His Word? When someone blasphemes the name of the holy God of the universe, the Savior who willingly endured the cross for your sin, why wouldn’t you get angry about that? When someone attacks, betrays, or perpetrates evil upon a fellow image bearer – especially if that person is a brother or sister in Christ – you are right to be angry at both the sin and the sinner.
Anger over sin and evil is good and holy. God exhibits anger over sin and evil, and we, as His image bearers, should share His indignation. When Christians are angry over the right things and use that anger to fuel a godly response to sin it makes the church more biblically healthy and grows it to greater Christlikeness.