The Emotion of the Falsely Righteous
“Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” – Matthew 5:22
“Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:19-21
“A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
Is Anger Always A Sin?
As with many other passions, anger (or wrath) may be an emotion or an attitude. If all anger is sinful, how is it that God is described as “angry” in the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures), or that Jesus became angry at least twice according to the Gospels. Of course, some people say Jesus wasn’t really angry as he drove the money changers out of the temple with “a kind of whip made of cords” (John 2:15). Read the Gospel: Jesus was angry. If Jesus got angry, it must be right, because he never sinned. So we can get angry?
Anger as a Decision
Some say we can’t control our emotions, but we “choose” our emotions from our “emotional toolbox.” If anger is in our heart already, events will bring it out. If we have let God give us peace, our reaction to events will reflect this: we may respond to offenses or accidents with humor, kindness and patience, because that is what is in our heart.
But if we still have anger in our heart, what do we do in the meantime? Once the anger wells up and starts to spill out, we have an ongoing decision: let it out or refuse to participate. This is not a matter of holding it in. It is a matter of starving it, refusing to feed it. Anger always dissipates eventually, so we can just let it happen sooner by not holding on to it and refusing to enjoy it. People enjoy their anger. Think about it; you will find it is true. Even though we may feel terrible later, we enjoy the power of anger while we are giving ourselves to it. We get an adrenaline rush and forget all the bad things about ourselves.
Anger Belongs to the Righteous
Every angry person feels righteous. When we are angry we concentrate on the object of it and forget everything else. It is Judgment Day, and we are playing God. Parenting may be the worst situation of all. An angry parent faces a small, helpless child and truly is an awesome force. The child can be frightened beyond belief, and the parent may come to enjoy this feeling, especially if the parent feels helpless in the face of others. Supervisors can intimidate employees in the same way, teachers do it to students, administrators to teachers, and schoolmates even bully each other.
The key is that only the righteous have a “right” to be angry. Appropriately, this is called “righteous indignation.” There are rare cases where we are angry for the right reason: when we hear someone make racist remarks, lie to destroy another’s reputation, or witness a heinous crime. However, none of us is truly righteous: we do wrong things, too. Given our own sins, we are in no position to judge, and righteous anger implies a kind of judgment, at least of an action. We aren’t called to stand high above other people but with them. We fail, and we desire compassion and patience from others.
Many times, our anger over situations is not due to the situations’ actual morality, but is because they conflict with our own ideas about what is good. And our ideals are not always God’s. A good deal of self-examination is required: why am I really angry? Is God angry about this? If not, do I claim to be more righteous than God?
This may be the most helpful idea in dealing with anger: is God angry about it? We had better know God very well, though, or we may simply make God in our own image and then have Him bless everything we do.
So, righteous anger is simply a matter of agreeing with God over serious matters. However, God really doesn’t need our anger, so something more productive is called for: action on behalf of good. In all the Gospel, Jesus spent almost no time being angry, and in each case it was very short lived. If we are angry often, it is most probably not righteous anger.
Lastly: if we believe we should be angry because we want to agree with God, then are we also compassionate for the same reason? Do we agree with His mercy? Do we genuinely try to follow the full Gospel or do we pick and choose? Are we prepared to humble ourselves for the sake of others as Jesus did? Do we remember God’s patience and mercy in His dealings with us?
The safest course is first to imitate God’s mercy, compassion, humility, gentleness and above all, love. When these are in our hearts, perhaps we may also have some righteous anger.
But there probably won’t be room, and we probably won’t miss it.
For Continued Reading
“Mere Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis
“The Little Flowers of St. Francis”