Yesterday, I got visibly angry. I hate when that happens, I try to curb my anger often because I do not like the person I become when clouded with anger.
Reminds me of when God asks us the question, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4.4), the answer may sometimes, just sometimes, be a qualified yes. And yet even then, in most of our experiences, even our most righteous anger is tinged with ungodliness.
A trivial example will suffice to make this point. I was crossing a side road not far from where it left the main road. As I stepped off the sidewalk, a car on the main road turned into the side road without signalling, and I had to dodge out of its way. I was angry. Had you asked me why I was angry, I might have said this: “I am angry because this behaviour threatens the good, moral order of society. This behaviour is wrong. People ought not to behave like this. I am right to be angry.” But while there is truth in that, I was also angry because I had personally been inconvenienced. I was angrier than if I had seen this happen to somebody else. Even my righteous anger was mixed with sin.
The struggle we experience as we try to reflect the righteous anger of God makes a little more sense once we consider how godly and ungodly anger relate.
In godly anger, we are being called to live in imitation of God, called to care about the same things God cares about, and to be angry over cruelty, injustice, and evil. The Spirit of God will sometime provoke in us just this kind of godly indignation. In our spirit we are stirred to feel the same offence God feels, to hate the way the innocent are made to suffer and to rail against the godless oppression of religious leaders and pastors who promote themselves instead of God. In the very best of such circumstances, we will be living in imitation of our God. We will be holy as he is holy. In such moments, we are concerned with his honour; zealous for his law; passionate about the poor and needy. Our anger is right.
But the very best of circumstances doesn’t happen very often. Much more of the time, imitation of God slides, ever so subtly, into a replacement of God. We do that thing that we do. We take his place, and soon it is our honour that we are concerned about, our law that is being breached, and our own needs that are stirring us to passionate rage.
The peril here is that even though these are two such very close neighbours, they are very, very different houses to live in. And all too often we take up residence in the wrong house without even realizing it. But when that happens, the wrath we are venting becomes wrath belonging almost entirely to us and not at all to him.
The antidote, as usual, is to turn our gaze upon Christ. To see his example of godly humility and seek to imitate it, for Jesus knew his place.
cover image by Dr Suresh Ega