“What do you do with the mad that you feel?”
It’s the opening line to a theologically suspect song crooned by my childhood hero Mr. Rogers (linked only for nostalgic purposes). But we would do well to ask ourselves that question. Many people I talk to during this time have seemed to become more and more aware of anger that has moved from the dark recesses of the heart out into the open. Of course that’s to be expected when you’re quarantined with the same people for long periods of time and our expectations for life have been obliterated. Unexpected circumstances often bring out the worst in us, and anger is often a result. Can anger be directed well though? Think about Ephesians 4:26-27. “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity.” Paul alludes to the possibility of being angry and not sinning, but what’s that look like? More often than not we’re angry for the wrong reasons. The reality is that sin stains everything we do, but I don’t think Paul is talking about perfection here. When we’re overwhelmed with anger in our quarantine, what should we do?
Anger sometimes manifests as a protective instinct. Often it looks like self protection, and sometimes that manifests as physical violence or harmful speech. In harming others we are often trying to protect ourselves. If you find your anger being protective, ask yourself which kingdom you want to protect? Selfish anger comes up when we’re self-protecting and self-interested because we’re too easily hurt. It doesn’t mean we suppress the pain we feel, but we often seek to fix it ourselves instead of relying on God and going to him. What do you do when you’re hurt? There’s no denying we feel hurt, so what do we do with that pain? What is it going to take for us to be more resilient and not so easily triggered by our surroundings?
Sometimes anger is a response to wrongs being committed and injustice being done. Still, we must be curious about our hearts. Which standard of justice do you want to uphold? Yours or God’s? If we’re lashing out because someone inconvenienced us, that’s self serving. If we’re responding to someone else’s unjust judgements of us with white hot rage, than we have elevated that person’s opinions over the opinion of God. If our anger around our current predicament and the injustice in our world causes us to lash out and sin, we need to ask what we are expecting of the situation, and are those expectations on a fallen world reasonable? With judgmental anger, exposing false expectations are everything.
Can you use righteous anger to attack the sin in your own heart? Can you use it to protect others? Can you use righteous anger to direct action against the sin in others? When anger is exaggerated and self-serving it’s only going to harm, but if it is merged with love, wisdom, and even joy than it can be used correctly. Consider God, the main being in the universe that has a right to be angry, and yet he’s slow to anger (Ps 103:8). Not only is he angry at the brokenness of his creation, he grieves it as well (Gen. 6:5-7). Just as Jesus grieved multiple times over the sin he saw around him (Mt 23:37ff), he also turned tables over (Mt 21:12ff). God is first love (1 Jn 4:7ff), but his fierce love often leads to righteous and holy anger. It would be wise for us to consider how our deep love for God and compassion for others could lead to righteous anger in us instead of self-preservation that leads to self-serving anger.
Think of yourself as a warrior, called to act, called to stand for God and his kingdom like you are called in Ephesians 6 to put on the armor of God. Just consider the characteristics of the armor: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and faith. This armor is not for violence directed at others. God is calling his warriors to act for his kingdom and his purpose. According to verse 12 it’s “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” That’s what we fight against for God’s kingdom. So your spouse, your parents, your neighbors, your governor, your kids; they are not the enemy. It’s the power of sin that is alive in you and in them that is the enemy. When we hurt others, we angrily act against the purposes of God for our kingdom because we’re hurt and our justice has been infringed upon. It’s like we all of the sudden became rogue warriors and committed treason!
Instead, may we heed the words of James 1:19-20, “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” So who’s kingdom are you serving? Who’s justice are you pursuing? May we be grieved by our sin, by the sin of others, and the brokenness around us. May we be moved to act in love while directing our anger at the right things for God’s kingdom purpose.