Displaced Anger

I've been told recently by two men that I seem very angry when I post here so I thought I had better address the matter. No doubt I will be accused of trying to justify my seeming anger. As I related to one of my friends: I am not actually a perpetually angry man. A conservative evangelical who reads this site may think otherwise. But I don't sit around steaming mad at the likes of Franklin Graham, or James Dobson, or Al Mohler. When I encounter public statements that these men make, with which I disagree, I will write about their worldview. But writing helps me release any anger I may experience.

We cannot, though, imagine that all anger is displaced or unjustifiable. Did not St Paul write: "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger" (Eph. 4:26)? We are, I think, permitted to be angry at injustice, oppression, and partiality. I think that some evangelicals are unjust in their engagement with the LGBTQ community and I challenge and confront them. If any of you think that I'm an angry man because of that then I must ask if you also think that Jesus was unjustifiably angry at the Pharisees who oppressed, marginalized, and demeaned the laypeople of their day (Matt. 23:1-33).

Of course, I would also be obligated to ask you why St Paul instructed us to, imperatively, be angry, but to not sin in our anger. Our word in Greek, ὀργίζεσθε, is a present passive imperative and also relates to being exasperated. Oh, yes, I do get exasperated with the Religious Right! But there are three imperatives (commands) in this verse (two noted here): ὀργίζεσθε, be angry, and ἁμαρτάνετε, do not sin.

Recall, for a moment, the following: Jesus "[looked] around at them with anger" (Mark 3:5). If the sinless Son of God is permitted to be angry, what we would term "righteously angry," then certainly we are permitted the same -- especially as the apostle commands us to, imperatively, be angry and yet not be sinfully angry. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown concur: "Should circumstances arise to call for anger on your part, let it be as Christ's 'anger' (Mr 3:5), without sin." (link) But did not Jesus teach us about anger, that we should not be angry, and that the angry will be subject to judgment (Matt. 5:22)?



There is a phrase missing in, by far, the majority of ancient texts of Matthew 5:22. Note this verse in the King James Version: "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment." (Matt. 5:22 KJV, emphasis added) I find the explanation of John Gill helpful when reading this verse:
whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment. By "brother" is meant, not in a religious sense, one that is of the same faith, or in the same church state; nor, in a strict natural sense, one that is so in the bonds of consanguinity [i.e., familial]; but in a large sense, any man, of whatsoever country or nation: for we are to be angry with no man; that is, as is rightly added,

without a cause: for otherwise there is an anger which is not sinful, is in God, in Christ, in the holy angels; and is commendable in the people of God, when it arises from a true zeal for religion, the glory of God, and the interest of Christ; and is kindled against sin, their own, or others, all manner of vice, false doctrine, and false worship: but it is causeless anger which is here condemned by Christ" . . . . (link)
When Jesus expressed His righteous anger in the Temple (cf. Matt. 21:12, 13), as well as His anger at the stubborn, self-deceived, and manipulative Pharisees (cf. Matt. 23:1-33), that anger served at least a two-fold righteous purpose: 1) confronting sin and evil for the sake of justice and godliness; and 2) protecting the integrity of God and God's purpose in the earth and among those being taught the principles of the Kingdom. But Jesus -- and this is paramount -- did not permit anger to control Him emotionally.

This is what one of my friends was concerned in my regard: he cared that anger might consume me. I reassured him via email that this is not the case (and he'll probably be reading this brief piece today -- he is a true friend). We are all reminded by St Paul a third imperative: 1) be angry; 2) do not sin (while you are being angry); and 3) do not let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4:26b). In other words, before you go to sleep at night, resolve any issue that gave expression to your anger or frustration.

A fourth imperative is granted in the subsequent verse: "and do not leave room for the devil" (Eph. 4:27). Anger, then, can be an avenue for the enemy of our souls to wreak havoc in our lives. We must not, in conclusion, allow displaced anger to grow in our hearts and make us bitter. (Heb. 12:15) But we are actually commanded to be angry, as Jesus became proactively angry, at injustice, sin, greed, oppression, and partiality. So, let us be angry, but let us not be sinfully angry. Confront what Jesus confronted from the religious hypocrites of His day. But let us do so without allowing that exasperation and frustration to consume our minds, our hearts, our souls. Be angry. Don't sin.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.