Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.
Perhaps this is a timely passage for me to consider in light of the previous commentary (Verse of the Day – 02/20/19) that I sent out regarding the principles of forgiveness. In response, a friend wrote me and questioned my thoughts about “righteous anger” stating, “It was not wrong or sinful for me to be angry or upset about what had occurred.” She further added, “Anger is not a “sinful” emotion; we just need to consider how to express it in a righteous way.”
Well, the response and this Verse of the Day captured my attention. So I began to search what the Word of God shares with us regarding the emotion of anger and its sinful effects if allowed to be harbored within our hearts. There were a couple of passages that immediately came to mind so let’s start there:
Ephesians 4:25-27 (ESV)
26 Be angry and do not sin (Cf. Psalm 4:4); do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
Psalm 4:4 (ESV)
4 Be angry, (the connotation here is to tremble or be agitated) and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
So the implication here is that anger is a natural, raw human emotion we experience. And although we can feel anger regardless of its provocation, we are admonished to not allow anger to cause us to sin. We are called to “think it through” in our own hearts and be silent. Rash words spoken in anger can kindle a fire. (Cf. Psalm 39:3; James 3:5-6) Anger can easily lead to an opportunity for the devil to deceive us; accuse us; diminish our relationship with God; or worse – drive us to sin against the anyone who provoked the anger within us. I think about the story of Cain and Abel where God confronted Cain about his anger. Interesting that Cain was initially upset with God … provoked or agitated because God did not accept his grain offering. But Cain allowed his unrestrained anger to drive him to murder his brother, Abel.
Genesis 4:3-8 (NIV)
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” 8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
There are numerous lessons we could dive into here, but the most obvious is that the emotion of anger was fueled by jealousy … and jealousy led to hatred … and hatred led to murder. My point was and continues to be that anger is dangerous … even so-called “righteous” anger. Feelings of righteous anger have caused some so-called Christian Activists to bomb abortion clinics; gay clubs; etc. in the pretense of “moral duty”. So plotting revenge … plotting evil in response to feelings of anger or any other emotions it might evoke can lead to all sorts of sinful conduct … and in these types of situations … dishonor and bring reproach to the name of Christ Jesus.
Revenge is not an acceptable strategy or response when we feel harmed by the actions of others and become angry. There are several Scriptures that address the imprudence of seeking revenge. Here are two that come to mind:
“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35) 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22)
The believe the Apostle James afforded us some wisdom for us on this topic. While we are prone to anger for whatever reason and to whatever degree, James asserts that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Our mouths will too easily ensnare us. Our relationships are too at risk from the effect of anger expressed in its various forms from words to weapons.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Well, we can find the words “anger” and “angry” used in Scripture over 400 times depending on the translation. As I sampled them, most of uses referenced people in conflict or the “anger” of God. Of course, we know that ascribing human emotions to God (known as anthropopathism) is really more of a language of accommodation through which an infinite God reveals Himself to finite man. It is used to explain our understanding of God … His nature, character and attributes … in human terms. Though God does not change with emotions like humans often do, I believe as our Creator He knows the range and depth of emotions that humans feel. And God has allowed inspired writers to pen these “attributes” in emotional, relational terms to express or communicate His “feelings” toward sin … toward His creation … and toward His people in particular. While this language of accommodation is useful, I believe if we want to observe the “actual” emotions of God we can simply look to Jesus and come to some rational conclusions on what God “is like”. Jesus did express what we would describe as anger in the Temple court when he drove out the money-changers. (Cf. Matthew 21:12-13) I suppose it would have been viewed as “righteous” or “justifiable” anger, but the more important aspect would have been to reveal the heart of God. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” (Cf. John 14:7-11)
So, I think our best response to anger – whatever its source – is to “plan what is good”. We need to already have our “response” to anger already in mind … and not be caught off guard. It is in preparedness we will find love and faithfulness not only for God but for each other. No doubt, anger is going to be felt within us. It is our human nature. But what we do with it next in that moment is the point of this commentary. I would rather “confess” anger than “express” anger because there is too much risk for Satan to seize our weaknesses and use them against us. Unrestrained (undisciplined) anger can lead to a multitude of sins. As God cautioned Cain, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” I pray we will not let anger however we might consider it (healthy, justified, righteous, or otherwise) become an open door to sin. Remember, Peter urged to be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (Cf. 1 Peter 5:8)