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Anger without Sin

March 15th, 2019

Be angry and sin not… (Ephesians 4:26)

Mark 3:5 records that Jesus was angry at the unbelief of the people: “And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart.” How is this possible?

Here is an area that we struggle in. Some people, in the name of Christianity, believe that all we can do is to be victims, to be abused by the world and let the world abuse us.

Can anger ever be good? Man’s anger isn’t: “The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). What anger that originates from our fallen natures is always wrong and leads to the escalation of harm to others. Anger, in so far as it includes resentment, vengeance, revenge, retaliation, a desire to hurt others, that type of anger is unholy. We are warned:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

But there is another type of anger, one based on God’s justice. This good anger is what we must have in order to “overcome evil with good.” Anger that is engendered by the Word and Spirit of God, is good. This is the anger that without hatred and retaliation stands against evil and says No to injustice and mistreatment. This is what the apostle is advising – be angry for the right reasons and in the right way and do not let this righteous anger lead you into personal vendettas or vengeance. In English we are more likely to call it “righteous indignation” (“gerechte Entrüstung” in German, or “indignacion justa” in Spanish, or “indignation fondée” in French).

We live, as men have always lived, in very confusing times. The world takes up causes and screams against injustices in human anger, lashing out vindictively and unmercifully. They are not so much interested in justice being done as the “bad people” being punished. In gross ignorance and anger, they lash out without thought or “cool reflection” of all the intricacies of the problem. In man’s anger they condemn others and almost always we are guaranteed an escalation of injustice and violence. Bishop Joseph Butler wrote:

Malice or resentment towards any man hath plainly a tendency to beget the same passion in him who is the object of it, and this again increases it in the other. It is of the very nature of this vice to propagate itself, not only by way of example, which it does in common with other vices, but in peculiar way of its own; for resentment itself, as well as what is done in consequence of it, is the object of resentment. Hence it comes to pass, that the first offence, even when so slight as presently to be dropped and forgotten, becomes the occasion of entering into a long intercourse of ill offices.*

Godly anger, on the other hand, condemns the sin, but offers the hand of grace even to the sinner. True godly anger is not just indignant because of what the “sinner” has done to an “innocent” (if such designations can truly be used with distinction), but what the “sinner” has done to himself, to his own heart, in making himself an agent of pain and injustice to others.

When I was a missionary on the island of Mindanao, Philippines, I saw a poor young mother personify this godly anger on a street corner holding onto her purse while her drunken husband tried to wrestle it away from her. He was known as an addict to gambling and alcohol, and he wanted to take the last bit of money they had so he could gamble and drink it away. The young wife’s jaw was set and she was determined not to let her children’s food and shelter and education be taken from them. She held on to her purse and no amount of tugging on her husband’s part got it out of her grasp.

n her eyes was also the sternness of disappointment in her husband for not being the man he should be, but there was no hint of retaliation. Broken-heartedness, pain, and disappointment were all there, etched in her young eyes that were ageing all too quickly. But there was also courageous anger and a defence against injustice. Eventually her husband walked away in shame, and I hoped that he would become a better man one day.

This was the same anger as was in the heart of the prodigal’s father, who was angry at what the world had done to his son, angry with his son for allowing it to be done to him, angry at him also for what he had done to himself and others, but welcoming of his return. The anger at the world in that father’s heart never spilled over to sinful vengeance and every day he hoped his son would return.

So the Spirit inspired the apostle to command us to be angry for the right reasons and in the right way, but do not let this godly anger bleed over into sinful vengefulness. This is the serious work of all Christians – to stand against injustices, to stand firm, to stand offering grace to all, and to stand without vehemence or human anger.

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*To any serious study of this subject, I recommend the writings of Bishop Joseph Butler (1692-1752), in particular his two sermons “On Resentment” found in Fifteen Sermons. This quotation is from http://anglicanhistory.org/butler/rolls/

Another note: Cannot we see the extreme of vindictiveness in the ill-advised retaliatory policies toward Germany after the First World War by France and Britain? It was the vindictiveness and the resentment it engendered that gave rise to the Second World War. How much better it is when nations seek justice and forgive the past and seek to move toward a better future together.

Ephesians, justice

Is God’s Wrath Real?

May 1st, 2018

Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:12 ESV)

There are two extremes in teaching about God’s wrath that tend to lead us into error: to under emphasise it or to over emphasise it.

Through the centuries there have been different Christian groups who have painted God as a mere God of vengeance, who delights to punish the sinner. This has always led to a Christianity that was fear-based more than faith-based. To this day you can see some of these groups around the world, such as those in the Philippines who walk in Good Friday processionals flailing their backs until they are bloody, seeking to atone for their sins before an angry God. These are mis-characterisations of the biblical teaching of God’s wrath.

But there is the other extreme as well, the propagation of the false teachings of two different gods in the Bible – the Old Testament one and the New Testament one. The Old Testament god, in this teaching, is a god of vengeance and anger. But the New Testament god is one of kindness and grace. But the Bible proclaims that there is only one God, and He is not schizophrenic! If we will examine the Bible carefully we will see that the God of the Old Testament was also patient and gracious, and that same God sent Christ into the world to save us.

The correct way of understanding the wrath of God is not to neglect it, or to over stress it, but to see it in its proper context. As a holy and pure God, God must judge evil. We sometimes say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. That is only partly correct, for God does not send the sin to hell but the sinner. The Bible does say that God hates sinners (Hosea 9:15), and though any sinner may through repentance and faith be a recipient of God’s love, the point is clear that God’s wrath is real. It might be clearer to see this word “hate” as meaning “to detest” or “to abhor.” (See also this section from gotquestions.org.)

Yet the Bible never says,”God is wrath,” but it does say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). When Christ spoke of the eternal relationship He had with the Father before the world was made, He described it not as one of wrath but as one of love: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). So the overarching nature of God is one of love, not of wrath, and He loved the world so much that He sent Christ into the world to die for our sins (John 3:16).

Because God is holy and pure, His wrath is not like ours. Ours is mixed with our hurts and anger, our prejudices and lack of understanding. God’s wrath is perfect and just and always right. When God in the Bible says, “Vengeance is mine!” (Deut. 32:35), His point is to teach us to leave the matter of revenge and vengeance into His hands and not to seek to do it ourselves (see Romans 12:17-21). God judges fairly and purely, not in a mind that is misguided by personal hurts and faults.

Speaking of God’s wrath “flaring up in a minute” or being “quickly kindled” in the verse above describes the situation from the human perspective. Elsewhere the Bible tells us:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:8-10 ESV)

God’s wrath may seem to flare up suddenly to the one whose heart is far from God, who does not consider how his life has offended God’s holiness. But in actuality, God in Himself is “slow to anger.” Psalm 2:12 and verses like it are warnings to us that something very different is going on in God’s heart from our hearts when we sin. We may hurt and abuse others, and go happily along this evil path for years thinking that there will never be a day of reckoning, we may cheat and deceive and lie and steal, we may abuse our own health through addictions, a poor diet, or a lack of exercise, and we may be unjust and uncaring and even cruel and selfish, but be assured that God will hold us accountable.

Suddenly to us God’s wrath seems to flare up, but He has actually been patient. So it is a warning that any one of us could be drawing perilously close to the line of God’s wrath, and that we could be blind to this reality. We should regularly keep ourselves in check, to let God examine our hearts and our actions. As the psalmist wrote: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23). 

And for the one who has never trusted in Christ, each day of his life he is closer to his own death. None of us know when we will die, and though some complain that it came suddenly upon them, that is not truly a valid excuse. Surely, every human being should realise that death can come at any time for any of us.

The solution to all sin is to pay homage to Christ, “Kiss the Son,” or worship Him and believe in Him. The scripture says: “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).  His wrath in this passage above is uniquely reserved for those who knew of the Son but did not pay homage to Him, but instead stubbornly persisted in their own way.

justice, Psalms