That title sums up my current thoughts about how to biblically think and speak about anger.
A few weeks back, I commended a short piece on anger by David Scaer: “Anger: an Appreciation”. Shortly thereafter, I was made aware of an article on the same topic published on Concordia seminary’s (in St. Louis) website by professor Jeffrey Gibbs, “The Myth of Righteous Anger”.
I sympathize with both men, but I think that Dr. Gibb’s article highlights a basic Lutheran weakness: because we know that all good works are infected by evil, we sometimes feel like – and give the impression – that we should not talk about good works and emotions vs. evil ones. But indeed, as we well know, there are indeed intrinsically good actions and emotions vs. instrinsically bad ones. “We sin in all our good works?” Well, yes, but “So what?” (that is not just a rhetorical question – see this post).
Take a look at Dr. Gibb’s post, which was very well received.
Here is my first comment to him:
First of all, I agree with many (most) of the insights and arguments in your article – particularly your practical advice in the end.
Second, may I be so bold to push back a bit? (please note: this all coming from a person who personally sees little if any righteous anger in himself) Some questions…
Why should the element of emotion – that so clearly lies behind the words in the Psalms – not also be taken as being from God? Including what clearly seems like anger?
You said: “…in the case of Moses or Elijah or Paul, the texts do narrate that they were angry and then acted in response to evil of some sort. But this does not mean we should think that our anger is like theirs, or even that in their anger they did not sin at all.”
And I agree. In like fashion, even though desire for one’s spouse is good (even better than anger, which would not have existed in a pre-fall state) that does not mean it can ever be totally pure. So this being said about anger (its lack of purity), doesn’t the fact remain that they were right to be angry, and that the sinfulness of their anger is made pure through the blood of the Son? In like fashion, it is good for one to desire one’s wife, even though ever purer blood-covered desire should be sought. Do you think that this is a productive way of looking at these matters?
Finally, the real practical problem here, as I see it: if human righteous anger “is a theoretical possibility” (even though you yourself later say “I do agree that we can begin with the notion that human emotions, including anger, are not intrinsically sinful”), we are even less likely to take seriously those persons who may, perhaps, be rightly angry with us (e.g. “that is just a smoke screen, an ‘attempt to justify sarcasm and punitive actions and angry insults’”)
Here is how he kindly responded:
Thank you very much for writing, and for offering some excellent food for thought! As for your last point, I had not considered that a person might dismiss objections to his/her behavior entirely by rejecting the notion that another is “righteously” angry. We are, of course, capable of turning anything into an opportunity to excuse ourselves. That would be a particularly creative sort of ad hominem defense: “Oh, that’s just he–he’s angry and so I don’t have to listen to him.”
As to the question of the psalmists’ (and others) anger, I’m not sure I would think of them as being made pure through the blood of the Lamb. I don’t think that Christ’s work makes sinful things about me acceptable or pure; rather, his work covers over what is sinful in my motives and pleads for mercy.
I think that I would be more sympathetic to taking directly the anger exhibited in the psalms as acceptable or even exemplary were it not for a basic fact. That is, both testaments have direct teaching about anger in/among the people of God, and none of the explicit teaching casts a favorable light upon it. That’s why, I guess, I’m willing on the one hand to have a “back-up” category of righteous anger. On the other hand, I don’t think it should be a main category in which we think and move.
Just a few thoughts–and thanks again for writing!
I responded in kind:
Thanks for your response to my post. I want to clarify something though.
“As to the question of the psalmists’ (and others) anger, I’m not sure I would think of them as being made pure through the blood of the Lamb. I don’t think that Christ’s work makes sinful things about me acceptable or pure; rather, his work covers over what is sinful in my motives and pleads for mercy.”
I talked about the Psalmist’s anger being made pure through the blood of the lamb assuming that their anger was righteous (perhaps discussing specific texts – and talking about how anger evident in them could be or should be seen as righteous, is necessary here) – not that it was sinful. I do not think that God sees our sins as good works through the blood of Christ but rather washes them away.
In wanting to defend righteous anger in general and in the Psalms in particular I don’t want to be misunderstood here either. I am not saying, for example, that we should constantly be in a state of anger – but rather that injustice should make us angry, and that anger should drive us to prayer – both for justice and mercy for our enemies.
For example, ISIS in general – not even any individual, but what they are and stand for – makes me angry. I want the wrongs to be righted, even as I want them to find mercy in Christ.
While my motives in my anger are surely not pure here – they need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb – I do think one should be angry. In like fashion, in general, why should our default not be to assume that somehow the anger evident in some of the Psalms is anger in line with God’s cause?
I hope this helps to better explain my thoughts here. Again, I say this as someone like yourself, you would like to be angry less, and usually does not sense much righteousness at all in his anger.
His final reply to me:
Thank you for clarifying on the “making pure”–I confess that I misunderstood your words, and I apologize for that. I see now what you mean. And I certainly did not hear (or read) you as promoting anger or something like that.
As to whether the anger in the psalms is in line with God’s cause, I do think it is possible, and I don’t want to dismiss that entirely. As I suggested before, I am just stopped in my tracks by the direct teaching, in both testaments, about anger. For me, that teaching makes me not trust anger, and to do what I can to work through it, rid myself of it, confess my sins, etc.–all of which you also affirmed.
Peace be with you!
It looks like there has been some other good conversation on the post in recent weeks as well. It might be worth looking at. In world that is getting angrier day by day, it is a good thing to reflect on as Christians.