Hi, Rob here. This is a follow up to last weeks post on Anger. Sometimes as Christians we can give the impression that we are never meant to be angry, but this is simply not healthy or biblical. Anger is a necessary part of the grief process, an appropriate response to evil and injustice and can be a wakeup call to our hearts that too easily grow numb and weary. The issue is about what we do with our anger and who we take that anger to. To answer those questions we turn to the prophets, the Psalms and to Jesus.
Jesus was certainly terse at times with the disciples, the Pharisees and Sadducees but his anger was most visible when he was in Jerusalem; the time we appropriately call Passion Week. He drives out the merchants in the temple. Mark writes that “he overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts (11:15-16).” John adds that he had a whip that he’d made himself. What rage! How dare God’s house of prayer become a den of robbers! A fig tree wasn’t spared Jesus’ wrath. It withered when it had the gall not to have fruit on it for a hungry Son of Man – never mind that it was out of season! The Pharisees were not spared. In an extended oratory of outrage in Matthew 23 Jesus laid into them: “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” There are 7 woes altogether and Jesus concludes with this: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” If any of us let rip like that to our religious leaders they’d be calling for exorcism or excommunication!
Most of the prophets had no problems being honest before God about their feelings and that certainly included anger. My favourite rant comes from Jeremiah 20. Jeremiah paid a high price for being God’s messenger. The message of impending doom at the hands of Babylon unless there is profound repentance was not popular. He sums it up like this: “You deceived me Lord, and I was deceived, you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long ; everyone mocks me…So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” the problem for Jeremiah is that he can’t hold it in; “his word is in my heart like a fire.” He’s angry at God in the presence of God.
In the Psalms anger and lament sit somewhat uncomfortably for us alongside praise and joy. But the Psalms are about bringing our whole emotional life before God in worship. So in Psalm 69, we see David angry with his enemies and asks God to: “Pour out your wrath on them; let your fierce anger overtake them…Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation.” But we also see him sing, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.”
From Jesus we learn that we can share in God’s anger and take action on his behalf if it glorifies his name and reveals his character. This is dangerous territory for us mixed-up people as the world of violent fundamentalism shows us, so we need to humble ourselves in community and pursue the path of love. Jesus acted specifically against actions that left the poor poorer and were an obstacle to worship. We need to be careful that we don’t claim that we’re pursuing the path of righteous anger when it’s actually a path of self-interest and self-service.
From the prophets we learn that we can be angry at God directly and that he’s big enough and gracious enough to take it. In fact, it’s far more healthy to take our complaints about God to God than to try and deny them or complain to others. he can take it. A lot of people can’t. From the Psalmists we learn that we can be angry with God and that anger doesn’t take away our ability to praise him or seek comfort in him. Instead the Psalms show that expressing anger and lament is an essential part of worship. The world is fallen, the kingdom of God is yet to come fully, therefore we have grief, pain and difficulties. But he is still God and he is still good so our hearts take refuge in him.
I have had to go through this journey today as I processed a letter that misrepresented my actions and my heart. It’s tough and I’ve hated having to go through it, but God has been with me. He’s given me courage through the words of my wife and my staff. He’s given me discernment and strength and I’m very grateful. Without a sense of anger or grief I wouldn’t have taken the necessary actions! But anger doesn’t consume me anymore because the Comforter and Counsellor has been with me every step of the way. My big lesson is not to fear the anger; not to fear the outpouring of emotion. It’s Ok! God can take it and more than that, he welcomes it. He welcomes our heart into his heart. So let’s let him in to the deepest, rawest, saddest, maddest, most hurting, most joyful parts of ourselves and let his transformation take hold step by step by step.