Be Angry Like Jesus
You may have noticed: there’s a lot of anger in the world today. A lot. It can be easy to let our emotions run high when we feel like we’re in the right. But unfortunately, often we’re not angry at the right things in the right way. A look anger in Scripture, and particularly as an attribute of God, will enable us to have the right kind of anger.
God’s Righteous Anger
Anger is fundamentally a good thing. It helps us right things that are wrong. But it’s not something to jump to too quickly. In James 1:14 we’re commanded to be “slow to anger.” And in the Old Testament, God describes himself as “slow to anger” (along with gracious, loving, forgiving, merciful, and just) to Moses in Exodus 34. This reveals that anger in itself is a good thing, but that it also has limits. What does it mean to be slow to anger?
Therefore, though it’s technically correct to say, “God is slow to anger,” that's not the whole picture.
First, we need to realize that God’s attributes can’t be understood on their own, but rather in light of all the other attributes. Therefore, though it’s technically correct to say, “God is slow to anger,” that’s not the whole picture. God’s anger is underpinned by his other attributes, including mercy, love, grace, forgiveness, and justice. He can’t express any of these attributes without simultaneously expressing each of the others. Knowing this means that you can trust that he will never fly off the handle or express anger towards you without love.
Second, we need to understand what makes God angry. The answer to this is pretty straightforward: sin and evil. God gets angry at the evildoer for the evil they’ve done. It’s sobering to remember this includes everyone apart from Christ- including you and me before we were saved.
God’s Righteous Anger at the Cross
But the story doesn’t end with God being angry at sin and sinners. Because God is merciful and forgiving, he worked constructively and patiently to bring about salvation by paying for all our evil himself. What’s amazing is that he did it by absorbing all of his own anger through the crucifixion of Jesus.
When Jesus hung on the cross and died, he experienced all of God’s anger at sin that would have been poured out on you and me, because he loves us and desired to save us. God will never count our sins against us because he counted them against himself and has already paid the price.
We pass on the mercy we’ve been given.
The reality that God’s anger towards us as been poured out on Jesus has implications for how we live. Jesus’ sacrifice means those who believe in him fundamentally shift how we express anger. When someone sins against us, we don’t withhold forgiveness, because of how much we’ve been forgiven. We, too, pass on the mercy we’ve been given to others. As believers, how we express and experience anger ought to reflect how God expresses and experiences anger. Though we understand these principles intellectually, we need the Spirit to remind us of this daily. The battle’s been won, but we still need to fight to live our life obediently.
Jesus Teaches Righteous Anger
The way Jesus lived gives us specifics about what the right kind of anger looks like. Since Jesus is wholly God and wholly man, he is the embodiment of the attributes of God listed above. Here are two of the most prominent times Jesus expresses anger.
The Pharisees wouldn’t even acknowledge that saving a life and doing good rather than harm on the Sabbath is well within the bounds of the Mosaic Law. They were focused on trapping Jesus in violation of the law, rather than willing to rejoice in showing compassion to someone who was weak..
From this instance, we see that a right form of anger is to be grieved by others’ rebellion against God, as well as their lack of mercy. Jesus’ anger here was an expression of grief and compassion. He was upset because the Pharisees were choosing the wrong path. They were choosing death rather than the life He was offering them.
It’s genuinely upsetting when people disregard the gospel and are hard-hearted towards suffering. But in his grief and anger Jesus did not abandon the Pharisees when they revealed their hardness of heart. Instead, he showed them a miracle of healing, providing another opportunity for them to repent and believe. We need to continue to show God’s love, mercy, and grace to those who are hostile to him and/or lack compassion towards others, like the Pharisees lacked toward the man with the withered hand.
Apathy is never the correct response to evil. Defiance against evil is a key theme in the Bible. Here, we see that Jesus’ anger caused him to actively intervene when wrong was being done. Pilgrims would come and purchase sacrifices to offer to God, but what was marketed as a convenience to them, had become a big business. The merchants took advantage of the travelers and made the temple, which should have been a place of sacred worship, into a place of materialism, lacking respect for God and God’s house. Moreover, they did business in the part of the temple reserved for Gentiles to worship God. This showed a lack of love for the nations, whom God wants to draw to himself.
From this example, we learn that there certainly is a time and place for Christian action, underpinned by humility, grace, kindness, love, justice, and forgiveness. Jesus constructively confronted the merchants with truth and action.
Anger in Your Life
Anger is a powerful emotion, and all too often we get upset for selfish reasons rather than Christian reasons. Instead, we are called follow Jesus’ model of anger; to weep with those who weep, but also intervene when wrong is being done. The cross’s message that we all were sinners deserving God’s anger, but received forgiveness and mercy, gives us a posture of humility. From that place, Jesus has shown us what ought to upset us, and how we ought to respond. By his Spirit we’re empowered to be angry in the right way.