Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Place of Anger in the Life of a Christian

I've been thinking about anger this week--specifically about its good purpose. It even seems strange to speak of a good and gracious purpose for being angry. Yet I think there is no other way to describe Jesus's emotion when he drove the money changers from the temple. Most dictionaries define anger as "an intense feeling of displeasure." This appears to me an apt description of what Jesus was feeling when he cleared the court of the Gentiles.

The question for me has been what is the good purpose of anger that we see in Jesus? It appears to me that the answer is somewhere along these lines: the good purpose of anger in the Christian life is to awaken those we love to a dangerous attitude or action in their lives. The danger may be to their spiritual or physical well-being. If I see my daughter wandering out into a busy street, it is not appropriate to call out, "Honey, come on back now, OK?" It is right to scream, "GET OUT OF THE ROAD!" Is this anger? I think it is. It certainly is an intense feeling of displeasure manifested in what I say and how I say it. But notice this anger carries no ill-will with it--just the opposite. It expresses a a desire for my child's safety and good. I hope that my anger will awaken her to her danger.

You might think about like Tabasco sauce. On the right food, in the right amount, at the right time it enhances your meal. But if you put Tabasco on everything, all the time, to excess, it ends up ruining everything. No one can stomach all that fire constantly. So should our anger be as Christians. There is right place and time and proportion for our anger, but it should not permeate everything or it will ruin much.

Yet I also keep in mind James 1:20, "The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." My anger may awaken someone to their danger, but it is ineffective in drawing people to righteousness in Jesus. It is similar to preaching about Hell. Jonathan Edwards once said, "Some talk of it as an unreasonable thing to fright persons to heaven, but I think it is a reasonable thing to endeavour to fright persons away from hell. They stand upon its brink, and are just ready to fall into it, and are senseless of their danger. Is it not a reasonable thing to fright a person out of a house on fire?"

Our anger just like preaching about Hell may awaken someone to their danger, but this is not saving faith. That is why the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. Righteous anger has its place. It may awaken someone to the danger they are in or the great harm that their conduct or attitude is causing, but your anger will never really change someone’s life and heart. It is something to think about. How many people do you know testify that it was the righteous anger of their parents or of their husband or wife that finally lead them to Jesus? I don’t know of any. But I know a great many people who will say that it was the enduring love and mercy of my parent or husband or wife that finally broke through in my life.

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