Our conversation began with, “I can’t recall when I’ve seen so much anger everywhere,” and it continued with a litany of disturbing examples, most of which were associated with the inflammatory political rhetoric filling America these days. The punctuating comment was, “Even Christians,” as though followers of Jesus should categorically be removed from indulgence in heated conversations. I was tempted to say, “My… you really sound upset,” and delve into the curiosity of being angry about anger, but tabled that idea for a later discussion. It was not the first time I had heard someone deliver one of those impromptu dissertations about anger that end up sounding like an indictment of the whole concept, and given the fact that anger is so prevalent, its consequences so painful, and its eruptions within us so frequent, I’m sure it won’t be the last.
The natural tendency for most of us is to avoid people who appear to be in a state of rage. That’s a self-protective mechanism, and understandable, because anger at intense levels can be frightening. Unbridled passions unleash tremendous energy, often impair judgment, and can be unpredictable and destructive. In spite of that there’s a kind of paradox infiltrating our opinions about anger. We don’t like it when other people are angry, but it’s different when we’re the ones who are upset. When we’re not involved, we can treat anger almost as though the idea itself is sinful, but it’s not so easy to do when we happen to be caught up in it ourselves. Putting limitations and restrictions on it sounds like a good idea until someone tries to tell us that we can’t be outraged about something.
Anger can be a tough issue. We don’t want to totally give it up, even though it often lies at the root of some of the words or actions we’d most like to forget. It also may have been the driving force behind some awful wound we inflicted on others or received from someone else. In any case, the initial response when the subject comes up is almost universally negative, especially among Christians. When we see it rearing its ugly head in our kids, the usual response is to exert some kind of control over it, to the point that in many cases, it seems like we’re trying to disallow the experience altogether.
Perhaps we ought to be careful about our readiness to condemn it, because the Scriptures make it undeniably clear that God gets angry. I wonder how many shocked looks a pastor would get if he espoused from the pulpit that anger is a godly quality.
Some, no doubt, would hasten to God’s defense and say something like, “Well… God only got mad at the devil, not people, or that He was only angry about the concepts and ideas that the devil promotes.” Others might suggest that God’s anger is different, a milder variety, watered down by the goodness in His heart. Either way, He doesn’t ever get really, really angry like we do. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the Bible reveals. While it’s certainly true that Satan and his lies are the root cause of all that God hates, His anger was not just directed at ideas. He got angry with people. God got angry with individuals, families, tribes, cities, and entire nations.
The prophet, Nahum, declared,
“Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him” (Nahum 1:6 NKJV).
Sounds like He’s a bit more than mildly upset, doesn’t it? And as much as God obviously loved Moses, listen to what Moses reports,
“But the LORD was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So the LORD said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26 NKJV). And in reprimanding the whole assembly, Moses declared, “Also in Horeb you provoked the LORD to wrath, so that the LORD was angry enough with you to have destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 9:8 NKJV).
God uses strong, unambiguous terms like ‘wrath’ (Psa. 90:11), ‘fury’ (Isa. 66:15), ‘furious’ (Psa. 78:21), and ‘hot displeasure’ (Dt. 9:19), to describe His anger, and includes metaphorical images like burning fires, devastating storms, and catastrophic plagues to reveal how He feels at times.
Some might say, “But all that changed when Jesus came,” as though God maybe signed up for an ‘anger management’ course between the Old and New Testaments. Nice thought, but what about the declaration that He is “…the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8)? Then there’s Mark’s comment about Jesus prior to His healing a man’s withered hand. Mark said that He [Jesus] “…looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts” (Mark 3:5).
My point is not to just vindicate God’s anger, but to point out another glorious truth about Him. He is “…ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17 (NKJV). The Psalmist adds this,
“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8 (NKJV).
His anger is real, and powerful, but His response is “slow”. ‘Slow’ does not mean that his anger is disregarded, nor that He’s confused about it. ‘Slow’ has nothing to do with how long it takes Him to feel anger, but indicates that He is in total control over how quickly He chooses to unleash the force of it. Because He is “gracious”, “merciful”, and “abundant in kindness”, He is slow in releasing the destructive power of His rage against sin.
When we are admonished in the New Testament to “put off” anger, and to avoid expressing it sinfully (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8), it is a call to apply the mercy and grace God demonstrates and put the brakes on explosive, impulsive responses. We are created in His image, and the capacity to love like Him comes with the corresponding capacity for an equally powerful emotion that arises when that love is challenged or threatened. To feel no anger when we see our nation seduced by evil on every hand would only mean that we care nothing for the ones it destroys. Being angry is godly—but unless we filter it through His mercy and grace and apply it wisely, we only add to the destruction.
© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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