This week we are looking at Sarah Sumner’s blog post on “righteous anger.” I want to start this post with her words:
If you haven’t noticed, America is angry. A critical mass of citizens are clamoring in pain and hurling accusations and jeering at their opponents, and holding grudges and threatening one another. Professing Christians in our country are apparently angry, too. The news is rife with election year stories about angry evangelicals who are determined to set America back on track. A lot of people like to justify their anger by calling it “righteous.”
Christians seem to spend a lot of time publicly outraged, calling out those who we are against, and demonizing those who think, believe, vote, or even look differently than we do.
Which is a problem in and of itself. But the deeper problem is we use our faith to justify our anger.
So we assume it is our job to be harbingers of the wrath of God and flip our own tables.
There’s no denying that anger plays a role in the life of Jesus and even in the nature and character of God. But it is important to ask good questions about that anger before we start twisting together our whips. So today I want to look at three questions: What is the root of divine anger? Where is it directed? And what is the response? Then I want to ask what this means for our own “righteous anger.”
First, what is the root of divine anger?
Divine anger occurs when things aren’t how God intended them to be. The theological term for this is “sin.” The word sin has a lot of baggage connected with it, but it actually is a very helpful word when used correctly. Sin helps us see that God designed human beings for full life in harmony with God, the world, and others. Sin acknowledges the ways we have gotten off track. Sin is the language we use when we look at something and say: That is not right.
What seems to particularly upset the divine is when people are excluded, oppressed, or marginalized. Which makes sense. If God intends for us to have full life and harmony with others, then it would make sense when human being treat each other in awful ways, it would really hack God off.
Specifically, it really hacks God off when the exclusion and oppression comes from people who claim to be “God’s people.” In fact, the harshest anger is always produced when “God’s people” have missed the point or use God as a way to hurt others.
Which leads to question two: Where is divine anger directed?
Sarah Bessey had a neat section on God’s wrath in the book. And again, the nature of sin is helpful.
The wrath of God is actually the love of God because it fights against the things that keep us from being fully human. Wrath is not against us, but intended to heal us.
Think for a minute about a person with cancer. Is it helpful in any way to be angry with them for having cancer? Or are we really angry at the thing which is killing them?
Obviously, some cancer is caused because of people’s choices, other times it is not. But the problem in those moments is the cancer. Being angry at the host is not helpful. The fight is against the cancer so we can be healed.
Third question: What is the divine response to anger?
What we quickly see is that when the divine is angry, the divine gets to work. A personal favorite example is Jesus and Lazarus. Sarah (Sumner)’s article talks about how Jesus snorts like a horse in this episode. Stephen Garber talks about this “snort” in Greek literature is that of an angry warhorse preparing for battle. And after Jesus snorts, he fights against death itself.
So, what does this all tell us about our own “righteous anger”?
One, anger is a natural response to sin. There is something in the human consciousness which reacts emotionally when things are not right, fair, or just. This is a good impulse, because it is an impulse like God’s.
In the sermon we based last week’s posts on, Jonathan (he just keeps coming up) talked about how the political situation holds up a mirror to our society. I think our anger is often a similar mirror. It reflects what we know is not right in the world.
But before we jump to fixing it, we need to let the mirror shine on us. We need to acknowledge what is wrong in the world, and first ask how this implicates us. How have we perpetuated what is wrong in the world? What can we change in our own lives?
As Lent began, I talked about why we start with confession. Confession is how we name sin in our world and our lives and it frees us to make actual changes.
The Church would be a lot better off in the world if we started with confession. Douglas John Hall talks about how our public “witness” should be self-critique. If we want to be loud and angry, then let’s be loud and angry at ourselves. Before we dive in to fix the problem “out there” we need to take a closer look at how we participate in the very thing we are angry about.
Finally, I think we often direct our anger at the wrong place. We want to be angry at the person or group of people, rather than the thing that is killing them. In Ephesians (6:12), Paul reminds us:
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Being angry at a person or a group of people often leads to demonization. “That” group or person is obviously evil and outside the love of God. And if they are inherently evil, they have no dignity or worth so I can exclude, berate, or even kill them and be justified.
We are not fighting people. We aren’t even nit-picking lowercase “s” sins. We are fighting the power of sin. In the cancer description, we aren’t fighting the patient or the symptoms, but the cancer.
One of our primary tasks as Christians is to live and act and speak in ways which reveal the character of God. So we need to not only learn to get mad about the things God gets mad about, but we need to learn how to get mad like God as well.