Understanding Righteous Anger

Posted on October 12, 2016 by Karen McMahon in Discipleship Counseling.

In the last post we unpacked what anger is and sought to understand this God-given emotion we all struggle with. We saw that anger is huge and complex, deceptive and seductive. Our anger is, “Our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against perceived evil.” In other words, it is an emotion which arises out of judgment.

But can’t we have righteous anger? We use the words “righteous anger” as a term to describe anger that is not sinful. Most of us think we have righteous anger because when angered we feel we have a right to be angry. But even when we try to label our anger as righteous it is still usually sinful.

That said, it is possible to be angry and not sin. The question then is, how do we know if our anger is righteous or sinful? We should know the distinction because as a follower of Christ our ultimate goal is to glorify God (2 Corinthians 5:9). Understanding righteous anger and what it does that sinful anger cannot do will help us to be more Christlike in our anger.

First, we need to understand that God’s anger is very different from our anger in two significant ways…

  • What drives it

  • What it produces

Truth - God’s anger is redemptive

What makes God angry?

Psalm 7:11 says God is a righteous judge and God is angry with the wicked every day. God’s just anger is expressed against actual sin, against rebellion or disobedience of His moral law.

At this point most of us would say that we too get angry over actual sin. But as we look to use His anger as our guide we see an anger that sees sin and says, “that is wrong, that matters,” but we also see an anger that is reparative not destructive. God destroys sin in order to repair our hearts.

Let’s self-reflect here. Is your anger reparative? If we are honest with ourselves most likely we would say “no, my anger tears down not builds up.” That is exactly what sinful anger does.

But anger that tears down is not God’s anger. His anger redeems difficult situations and difficult relationships. His anger is always connected to His love with the sole purpose of actually making things better. Does your anger make things better?

As I studied God’s anger I realized how beautiful it really is. His anger is always pure and holy because He sets the standard for wrong (in my anger, I set the standard for wrong) and His anger makes right what is wrong (Romans 12:19). His anger is redemptive.

When we have sinful anger it destroys, attacks, plants bitterness, tears down and gossips. Our anger can shut down (control) someone, but God’s anger doesn’t shut down and destroy what is already broken. It repairs what needs to be repaired.

Maybe you are thinking that you do get angry at what God is angry at, so is your anger wrong? Not necessarily, but many times our anger does go wrong (our response). Ask yourself:

  • Does my anger repair or damage?

  • Am I angry with sin because of the wrong which it commits against our gracious God or the wrong which it commits against me?

  • Is my anger focused on God and His will, or me and my will?

  • Does my love operate through my anger?

Often, you and I get angry at things that are not true wrongs and don’t really matter to anyone but us (our husband promises for the sixth time to fix the vacuum and goes golfing instead, our coworker gets the promotion when we put in ten times the hours they did, our friend doesn’t invite us to an event, our wife shrinks our favorite shirt). But God’s right anger is always just; when people are harmed or hurt by others or when evil is returned for evil (Romans 13:10, 12:17). Righteous anger is anger over sin.

Truth - Righteous anger is redemptive because it reacts and addresses the real problem - sin

How is God’s anger expressed?

Righteous anger is always self controlled, patient, merciful, forgiving and moves toward the relationship not against it. God’s anger affirms the relationship and seeks to restore it. His anger clearly communicates to us what are true wrongs and what truly matters to Him.

Moves toward, affirms, restores

How does God express His anger? Looking back to Genesis we see a beautiful picture of this expression. Even after Adam and Eve rebelled betraying God in the Garden of Eden, God commits to redeeming His people and promises to rescue His bride. God did not destroy mankind in His  anger (many marriages have been destroyed by someone’s anger). He was not reactive but proactive. He moved toward the relationship not away. He rescues us. He responds constructively, offering us mercy and the grace we do NOT deserve.

Responds constructively, offers mercy and grace, is proactive

  • Does your anger destroy the problem and rescue the relationship?

  • Does your response to injustice look like God’s response to the repeated betrayal He experienced or do you blow up, shut people out, become embittered or hostile?

  • When you have a right to be angry (adultery, abuse, betrayal, endangerment) do you take God’s place and judge others or do you attack the problem in a way that affirms the relationship (this does not excuse the sin).

Truth - Righteous anger displays godly qualities and is expressed in godly ways

God’s anger is sacrificial

Where do we see the epitome of God’s love? The cross. It is the cross that shows us loving anger. God’s anger poured out on Jesus cost Him the sacrifice of His own son. Love is sacrificial. It WILL cost you something. Anger should not be about self-interest but about the welfare of others.

Be encouraged! There is such great hope in your anger! You were made in God’s image therefore your anger can be like God’s—redemptive!  If you have found forgiveness in Jesus Christ you are filled with His Spirit and CAN respond righteously (redemptively) when angry.

Seek to emulate God’s anger

  • What God says is wrong is wrong and what matters to God is what matters

    • ASK: What is my anger really about? Is it about me, my wants, my needs, or my desires?

    • ASK: Is my anger at something that matters to God or something that matters to me?

  • God’s anger is an expression of His love

    • ASK: Is my anger destroying the problem and rescuing the relationship?

    • ASK: Is there humility in my anger when I lovingly confront?

    • ASK: Is my anger constructively expressed and motivated by love?

  • Patient

    • ASK: Am I slow to anger in this wrong–an unloving spouse, disrespectful teenager—and am I willing and committed to stay in this difficult situation to address the problem?

    • ASK: Does my anger reflect a commitment to action that seeks to redeem the relationship?

  • Mercy and forgiving

    • ASK: Am I willing to be transparent and vulnerable instead of masking it with anger?

    • ASK: Does my anger move toward forgiveness because I am more concerned about the other person?

    • ASK: Is my anger harnessed by the glory of God and aimed at attacking the problem while affirming the relationship?

Let’s summarize: God’s anger is different from our anger because of what drives it and what it produces. God can transform sinful anger. We all need to humbly ask God for help because sinful anger attacks and destroys everything in its path. If you are willing, your anger can be expressed in a redemptive way today!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” Matthew 5:9

About the author

Karen McMahonKaren McMahon is passionate about helping others apply biblical truth to every situation in life. She is the Director of Discipleship Counseling at First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota and a certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC). She has a MA in Theology from the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and is completing her MA in Biblical Counseling from Faith Bible Seminary-Lafayette, Indiana. Karen loves Jesus Christ, her three children and their 12 year old yellow lab...and sushi too.