Last we set out on a journey attempting to explore this complicated thing called ANGER. In the first week the goal was to accomplish two things: establish everyone is angry, but what sets Christianity apart is we have been called to redeem anger. The rest of this series will be continuing to establish those two ideas.
Where we will pick today is where we left off last week. We ended last by briefly defining ANGER. Therefore, today’s message will be diving more deeply into defining ANGER by exploring good and bad anger. Before we get into that discussion I want to use our definition as our working theme for today “Anger is a displeasure because something is preventing a perceived good.”
What Is Anger?
We said last week that we cannot just come up with a perception without consulting God in His Word, therefore, the same is true for today. We need to make sure our working definition for ANGER is taken from God’s Word. The challenge is there is not one text that easily defines anger. Essentially we will have to do a theological dig to explore the common themes and ideas surrounding anger.
The cornerstone of beginning to understand anger starts with God. There are many text one can go to in order to see what anger is within God, but a good starting place is one text I mentioned last week—READ Romans 1.18. There are a few helpful things here.
First, the phrase “the wrath of God” is merely another way of saying “the anger of God.” What this reveals to us is God gets angry. If humans are made in the image of God then it makes sense that we will get angry too. Second, I think an assumption many make when they begin exploring anger is they immediately equate it with sin, but we know from texts like Psalm 30.5 and Hebrews 4.15 that God is without sin. Therefore, if God gets angry then He is not sinning. Third, what is this anger God is going through? God has a perceived good and believes there is something preventing that good, namely, SIN. Anger is a displeasure with the way things are. God is displeased or angry with evil in the world because are not the way they should be. This is why Romans 1 says the source of God’s anger is “the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” God created world to be full good, but now it is full of corruption, impurity, and evil—things are NOT good.
Much of our anger finds its roots in our MOTIVES. What you care most about will fuel your anger. Discovering motives are never simple, but are hard work, which means the source of our anger is hard work. Much like motives, the sources of our anger will come out in layers.
As we moved with this basic understanding of anger we can now go a bit further into our definition. If anger is a displeasure because something is preventing a perceived good. The Bible demonstrates for us there is GOOD anger and BAD anger—there is righteous anger and unrighteous anger—there is holy anger and unholy anger.
I would like to start with BAD anger. In order to do that I want to read a story of BAD anger—READ Esther 1.10-12. What is clear is king Ahasuerus had a perceived good and Vashti’s actions are preventing that good. King Ahasuerus becomes “enraged” and “his anger burned within him.” Esther 1.19 tells us King Ahasuerus and his counselors did not pursue meditation, or a resolution, to allow Vashti and Ahasuerus reconcile. The actions here are the opposite for what the apostle Paul describes for us in Romans 12:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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 12.18-21
Vashti was king Ahasuerus’ enemy, and instead of pursuing reconciliation the king pursued vengeance. This is an example of BAD anger.
Two things can be helpful in understanding BAD anger, and the FIRST are common the fruits of BAD anger, and SECOND the motives they grow from. These are the 6 most common fruits of BAD anger with basic working definitions:
Irritability—this is anger on a hair trigger.
Arguing—this is anger that focus on “he said, she said” (personal conflict).
Bitterness—this is anger that last a long time. Typically this anger recycles old wounds, holds grudges, and feeds grievances.
Violence—this is anger that is sheer destructive—it attacks, hurts, destroys, seeks inflicting pain, and in some cases literally murders.
Passive Anger—this is anger that hides below the surface, but the person knows it is there. Its side effects include: depression, lethargy, pessimism, and distrust.
Self-Righteous Anger—this anger enjoys the feeling of regularly expressing grievances. The mantra here is, “It feels good to let it out.”
Absent Anger—this anger fails to get upset when real wrongs have taken place. Absent anger finds it is easier to remain detached or indifferent.
These BAD fruits allow us to spot bad anger. I spoke earlier about this, but MOTIVES are the roots of these bad fruits. God’s anger is never bad, because His motives are always pure and good. This is not true for us. While God made us to be instruments of good (which includes our anger) our motives are not pure, holy, but they are BROKEN and CORRUPTED. Anger was supposed to produce the fruits of justice, fairness, righteousness, mercy, and love. But instead our sinful anger produces pettiness, injustice, a lack of mercy, love and grace, whining, arguing, war and so much more.
In Genesis 3 God tells us our first parents wanted to be like “God.” And like them our desires to be like God are the primary source of all of our BAD anger. We put our definitions of “right” and “wrong” at the center of our displeasures—sitting on the throne of our hearts ready to pounce on anyone who is preventing our kingdom. Our anger becomes a courtroom where we are the judge, jury, and attorneys. Dr. Powlison describes what regular happens in that courtroom:
“…in this private courtroom of the mind the accused is allowed no defense attorney, no character witness, no due process, no extenuating circumstances, no evidence to the contrary, no second chances, no plea of innocence, no possibility that the accuser got it wrong, no possibility of mercy for the guilty.”—Powlison, p. 51
But there is hope friends. If God’s anger can be GOOD, and we are made in His image, then in God there is hope our anger can be redeemed. Like every other aspect of our lives God can redeem our anger through the same means He redeems everything in our lives—the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Like we did with bad anger, let's look at the fruit of good anger. There are many fruits of GOOD anger, but the four corners of the building are: PATIENCE, FORGIVENESS, CHARITY, and CONSTRUCTIVE. Bad anger brings death, decay, and destruction GOOD anger brings life, flourishing, and construction.
There is a common mantra or phrase that describes God’s GOOD anger throughout the OT—READ Exodus 34.5-8. While Moses is up on Mt. Sinai receiving God’s loving instruction the people are revolting at the base. Moses comes down and finds them doing this and gets angry. After this Moses runs to God, He is meditating between God and the people through prayer. But then Moses asks God to reveal His full glory to him. God revealed His glory by revealing His attributes—His character—His nature. Exodus 34 reveals to us God gets angry just like us, but His anger is an opportunity to show us His radical mercy, compassion, grace, and love. This does not mean God is not just ignoring our sin, because it says, “by no means clear the guilty,” but it means God’s mercy, grace, and love will work with everything He has toward a constructive, charitable, forgiving, patient end. God’s anger is “slow” revealing His “patience”. God’s anger is “merciful & gracious” revealing His “charity”. God’s anger “loving” revealing His “forgiveness”. God’s anger “will by no means clear the guilty” revealing His corrective “construction”.
The more you meditate on this it is all put on display at the Cross & Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Friends GOOD anger begins and ends with God. We cannot learn and grow in this GOOD anger unless we regular go to the Cross & Resurrection of Christ. In the Cross of Christ we see God’s anger is satisfied, offer of His love, mercy, grace, steadfastness, and forgiveness, which is the source for our love, mercy, grace forgiveness and steadfastness. In Christ’s resurrection we have a promises that all wrongs will be set right, which is the hope that all our wrongs will be made right.