God Wants You to Be Angry

Because he doesn't want you to be useless.

Happiness and sadness. Hope and despair. Love and hate. Peace and anger. In any list of emotions, anger is always listed as a negative one--the opposite of good emotions. We're enlightened enough now to know that it's unhealthy suppress it, but the end goal is still to mature beyond the need for it.

Anger is dangerous. It's the reason five Dallas cops are dead. And it's the reason dozens more are dead in Nice, France. It's in the news, it's in our news feeds, and it's in all of us. Just the other day it was in my car when a distracted driver made me miss my left turn arrow at a busy intersection.

We're afraid of anger because we see it do terrible things. So we've made it an enemy to defeat rather than a raw material to refine. As Christians, we feel justified in doing this because the Bible frequently condemns our anger.

The Proverbs condemns a quick temper, but praises the one slow to anger. James seconds the latter, and Ecclesiastes associates anger with foolishness. God's Word seems clear enough: he doesn't want us to be angry.

However, there's that little verse in Ephesians that says, "In your anger do not sin." It almost sounds like a concession similar to the one God made regarding divorce. He may not like it when we're angry, but he'll allow it because he knows we're human and we can't help it. Case closed, put the Bible back on the shelf.

This is why we need more than one Bible. Or at least access to one.

Paul never said, "In your anger do not sin," the NIV translators did. Which is interesting because none of the other major translations put it that way. The KJV, NRSV, NASB, and the ESV all translate it as, "Be angry and do not sin."

The Greek construction here is a present, passive, imperative. Or simply, it's a command to let something act on you continually (the present tense in Greek indicates ongoing action). It's the same construction we find in Romans where Paul tells us to "be transformed". We don't read that verse as "if you happen to transformed"; we understand that it's a command God performs on us every day (this blog explains further).

Thus, we ought to read Paul's words as, "be continually angry and do not sin." But what is it exactly that is making us continually angry? There is no object in this sentence, so the answer is not immediately apparent until we recognize that Paul is quoting Scripture.

In the Psalms, there is a nearly identical verse: "Tremble and do not sin." Here again, the NIV fails us. But this time, so does the KJV, NASB, and NRSV. The ESV is the only one that correctly translates the Hebrew word, ragaz, as anger. Technically, it means "to quake with violent emotion."

God commanding us to quake with violent emotion shouldn't be surprising. Over fifteen times it's recorded in Scripture that, "the anger of the Lord burned." Isaiah says that God did so on all of those occasions because his people rejected his law and spurned his word. Coincidentally, that Psalm continues after quaking by encouraging us to offer the sacrifices of righteousness.

We should know what those are, but believe it or not, they're also found in our original passage from Ephesians. After discouraging self-indulgence and greed, Paul explains what righteousness looks like: speaking truth to your neighbor, not stealing from your neighbor, not verbally abusing your neighbor, and being compassionate and forgiving toward your neighbor.

In other words, justice. The sacrifices of righteousness are showing love and justice to others. And that means injustice is what should be making us continually angry. If the prophets didn't already make that abundantly clear (so many times), hopefully those verses that explicitly say so do.

Mourning for the ten children who died in France attack is important and empathizing with the families of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile is necessary, but it's not enough. God hates injustice. It makes him seethe with anger, and he wants us to seethe too. Why? Because anger drives us to action.

It's ironic that anger is usually considered a negative emotion because positive emotions like sympathy and empathy don't actually do anything. For example, "Alex played too much Pokemon Go this past weekend" is a positive statement while "Alex didn't fix the garage door again" is a negative statement.

Positive means doing and anger certainly does. It's wild and volatile and, left uncontrolled, can meltdown like Chernobyl. Just like nuclear energy, it can also be controlled for violent purposes like Hiroshima. But nuclear energy, controlled for the right reasons, can provide electricity for entire cities.

Anger is powerful but it's not indomitable. Anger at social injustice gave us the Civil Rights Movement. Anger at religious injustice drove out the temple money changers at the hands of Jesus. When its object is injustice, anger is both powerful and productive. It's only when we replace that object with things like personal preference or inconvenience that anger becomes unpredictable and petty (that's why Paul tells us to give up the kind of anger associated with bitterness and slander).

In truth, anger is just as positive an emotion as love. Love means putting others first even at our own expense. But we can't say we love them if we can't get angry enough at their injustice to do something about it.

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