Monday, September 18, 2006

The Christian and Anger

In my sermon last weekend I made a statement or two about anger and the Christian life that provoked a discussion or two. In the general context of developing Spiritual Disciplines and the specific context of Colossians 3:1-17, I made the statement that Christians should strive to never be angry.

Admittedly that is a provocative, if not hyperbolic, statement. The discussion it elicited had to do with specific cases when actual wrongs are done and Christians must act, or the example of Christ in the temple turning over the seller’s tables. Certainly, many people were saying, there are cases when we ought to be angry at sin and strive to rectify it, and even the life of Jesus provides an example justifying “righteous indignation.”

I don’t want to try and settle the matter here, but rather provide a couple more thoughts for discussion. First of all, I know what I said was provocative--it was deliberate. I am glad people are now thinking and talking about the work of Spiritual Disciplines on their souls and their emotional states. Secondly, I would like to throw a couple of thoughts out there concerning the Christian and anger.

In the specific context of Colossians 3:1-17, Paul gives no quarter. He does not encourage the believer to “put off” anger in all cases except a handful in which we all know every reasonable person has a right to be angry. If what I said was provocative, it is because what Paul said is provocative. Having said that, however, I think it can be reasonably assumed, in a larger biblical context, that the point is to be able not to sin, even when we are angry. After all, the direct command is, “Be angry and sin not.” (Eph. 4:26)

But what is that direct command about? Is it about giving me the wiggle room to be angry, or is it about the injunction to not sin? Ultimately, I imagine the point is that I learn not to sin, not specifically about when I have a right to be angry.

And then there is Christ’s example of “righteous indignation.” It can be argued, and not dismissed lightly, that I am almost, if not entirely, incapable of being righteous in my indignation. If I am honest with myself, most all my anger, even at the wrongs and evils of sin and rebellion, is full of sin.

Is anger, especially when it is fraught with sin, a lack of trust in God’s providence? Is anger not only justified in certain circumstances, but necessary, for the attentive believer?

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