This post is part of a series.
There are good reasons for outrage, and constructive ways to express it. The Apostle Paul himself commended rightly guided anger when he wrote:
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
While this has been commonly understood as making up with your significant others before going to bed (good advice), in context, this is about vigilance, and allowing anger to motivate you without straying into sin.
Or as I like to say:
If you can’t get inspired, get angry.
1. Anger as a proper motivation
What makes anger proper or improper is the focus of what is essentially a destructive power? Are we seeking to destroy abuses of authority that lead to injustice, or harmful ideas, or people? The first two are legitimate, the last only under certain scenarios. 1
1.1 Hating Injustice
Injustice is a failure of government, since the proper, biblical way to administer justice is not through vigilantism, but through government. This is why, on one hand, Jesus recommended turning the other cheek in personal matters, and we are warned against taking vengeance for ourselves by Paul the Apostle, but on the other hand, Paul and Peter both emphasize that government exists to punish evildoers. 2
Jesus says “turn the other cheek”
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)
Paul says “don’t take vengeance” because God will
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
Paul says “government should take vengeance”
The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. (Romans 13:4)
Peter says “government should “punish evil and reward good”
For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.(1 Peter 2:13-14)
If we are to hate injustice, however, does that just mean we hate the acts of injustice? What about the people failing to establish justice – while they are certainly responsible and deserve our criticisms, should we hate them as the root of the problem? The answer is NO, but that does not mean that we don’t confront or challenge them – more on that below.
1.2 Hating Harmful Ideas
Ideas have consequences. Growth (“sanctification”) as a Christian is primarily about having our minds renewed to think and see things properly, and to allow truth to change us (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23). In addition, at least in our own minds, if not in our culture, we are charged to fight “vain philosophies”
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Resisting bad ideas, and rejecting them, is an important, if not primary task of Christians.
1.3 Hating Wicked Men
This is where things get cloudy. There are many principles to apply, including respecting authority while fulfilling our responsibility to bring prophetic criticism, and while executing justice with compassion on both perpetrators and victims. Sometimes, this includes withholding mercy and allowing justice to be done, especially on the unrepentant.
But the primary principle here is that behind wicked men are not only bad ideas and even their own malice, but spiritual forces that we must focus on and defeat through prayer and properly motivated speech.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:12)
We must not focus on hating men, but the spiritual powers and ideas and systems that support injustice.
1.3.1 What about imprecatory prayers?
Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 109, and 139 all contain verses where King David prays for judgement and calamity upon his enemies. While this is a longer subject, God welcomes us venting our emotions and praying for His justice to come, but that does not mean that we actually are spiritually warranted or productive when we hate. 3
2. When to take action on your anger
It is easy for us to waste a lot of time and energy in being angry about things over which we have no control, or that don’t even affect us directly. We can often use this as a vent for our own unresolved hurts, but we end up avoiding our own personal issues when our energies are misdirected in this way, and we miss the twin opportunities to deal with our own issues and apply our energies where they matter.
2.1 Do apply your anger when:
- You have direct experience, education, or a current leadership role in the area you are criticizing
- You have a strong compassion for the group that is being victimized or abused
- You are attempting to determine the truth, not attack others
2.2 Do not engage when:
- You have no direct experience, education, or current leadership responsibility in the area being discussed
3. How to pursue justice
Being angry may be a valid motivation, but even if we have noble goals in mind, there are right ways and wrong ways to employ anger (the ends do not justify the means). There are some great biblical and wise rules for engagement. Here are some of them:
3.1 First, Forgive
If we are angry in general (and all of us have hurts and reasons to be angry at others, the world, and God), we must prioritize examining our own hurts and forgiving those who have hurt or disappointed us, including ourselves. Our own mistakes can cripple our confidence and self-worth, and we need to learn how to forgive ourselves, make reparations where necessary, and move forward. One great way to do that is attend one of the many Celebrate Recovery programs worldwide, where you can not just overcome substance abuse like in many 12-step programs, but overcome your “hurts, hang-ups, and habits” in order to move on in your life. There you can find community and health and healing to overcome childhood sexual abuse, pornography addiction, anger, codependency, as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Find a CR chapter in your area. 4
3.1.1 How to know if you need to work on your own hurts?
Here are some symptoms:
- “I just don’t understand why” is a common elocution of yours (that really means “I am unwilling to understand”
- You seem to over-react to certain people, situations, or topics
- You find yourself thinking others are stupid or evil
- You find yourself getting agitated
3.2 How to argue fairly
- Focus on attacking processes ,ideas, and structures, not people
- Try to present the best version of your opponent’s argument (a “steel man”), not the worst (“straw man”) 5
- Ask questions – not to trap your opponent, but to understand 6
3.3 How to argue stupidly
- Call your opponents names
- Assume your opponents have bad motives
- Use superlatives (always, never, absolutely, definitely)
- Use sarcasm
Living in a constant state of aggravation and anger is really easy in these days of social media. But like other addictions, outrage porn can rob us of our time, our peace, and our opportunities to see our anger as information that can help us heal and contribute meaningfully.
But until we learn to forgive others, respond to opposition with gentle but firm and caring words and actions, realize that we too have issues, and desire to contribute instead of fight, we will waste our time and life in an addiction.
- Righteous Anger (bible.org) ↩
- God Hates Injustice (challies.com) ↩
- What is imprecatory prayer? (gotquestions.org) ↩
- Celebrate Recovery ↩
- Logical Fallacies: Stickman, Strawman, Steelman (wholereason.com) ↩
- Hedge’s Rules of Honorable Controversy (wholereason.com) ↩