When It's Good to Get Mad

Harnessing your anger for good—and avoiding evil.

It seems like every day, it happens again: Someone opens their mouth and says something stupid and makes each one of us mad. Often, it’s something we really shouldn’t be mad about—we lose at a game, or our favorite team drops a ball, or the DVR cuts off before American Idol ends.

That’s not what this article is about.

This article is about what happens when anger is a good thing. When it drives us to do something good. When we get angry because Pat Robertson said something terrible about Haiti, or Glenn Beck says churches who want to pursue social justice are barely disguised fronts for Communism or Nazism. When we get angry because someone says something contrary to the Kingdom of God. When someone says or does something to another person that strips them of their God-given value. These things are completely absurd—and we need to get angry about them. It’s the right response.

The way we process anger has huge implications for the Christian life. Too many Christ-followers are promoting a “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of faith, where anger and other complex emotions are conspicuously absent. That sounds nice on a pamphlet, but it’s not where I live.

The Bible has a more realistic spin on anger. “In your anger do not sin ... and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27, TNIV). Apparently, we’re allowed to feel anger. And that means we have to process anger. Anger is neutral. It’s all about how we respond to it. It’s sobering to think our anger can actually help Satan get into our lives. It’s a doorway to getting seriously jacked up. But it’s also an opportunity to change the world.

Anger, your ally

Anger is an indicator that something needs to change. Show me your anger, and I’ll show you your passion. Show me your anger, and I’ll show you your purpose in life. Anger can be a good thing.

What angers you will motivate you. If you find yourself angry about injustice, you’ll be driven to seeking to right the wrong. If you find yourself angry when people like Fred Phelps twist the name of Christ into something ugly and awful, you’ll be inspired to live a life of Christ-like love. If you’re angry about abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty, you’ll be motivated to support a culture of life at every level of society.

In short, your anger can drive you to seek change.

But: How do you process anger? How do you respond to it? Those are good questions. God wants us to leverage anger. In other words, we should get angry at the things that anger God. When we do this, we can change the world. When we get angry for our own selfish reasons, we end up leaving an ugly path of tattered lives behind us.

What makes God angry?

God is a jealous God. We should get angry when His reputation is maligned. “Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24,TNIV). Knowing that God expresses anger for His reputation should motivate us to defend God’s honor. It’s what drives us to to be angry (but compassionately so) when we hear Richard Dawkins say God is a delusion. Or when Bishop Shelby Spong openly questions the resurrection of Christ.

We should get angry when men and women construct barriers to worship God. When I think of anger in the Bible, I think of Jesus. Remember Jesus and the moneychangers (John 2)? Jesus was worshiping in the temple, and He saw that some leaders had turned God’s house into a casino. Instead of dedicating sacred space for all believers, certain leaders had commercialized a worship space. It distracted those who had come to worship. These so-called religious leaders were running a profitable foreign currency operation on the temple grounds. They were constructing barriers that made it more expensive and more difficult for the average person to worship in a way that pleased God. Jesus’ anger drove Him to cleanse the temple. His anger was constructive.

We should get angry when there is injustice. “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:21-24, TNIV). And when people (cough, Glenn Beck, cough) say we shouldn’t seek social justice, well, that should make us angry, too.

Anger is destructive. And anger is constructive. When we defend God’s reputation and the things God is about, our anger can be used to change the world. But how do we do that? How can we be angry in a good way?

Make a whip

Predictably, we need to look back at the example of Jesus. It says in John 2:15 that He “made a whip.” We like to skip over that verse and get right to the action when Jesus morphs into Chuck Norris so He can scatter some tables and put some serious fear into leaders while they flee the temple. Don’t miss that small phrase with monster implications. Jesus made a whip. In the midst of His anger, He took the time to weave strands of leather together. You know Jesus was fuming, but He took some time so He would respond righteously.

When our trigger is set off, we need to pause and say our own microwave prayer before we lash out in inappropriate anger. Count to 10. Take a walk. And don’t send any rash, emotionally charged emails. Trust us.

And remember: God loves the person you’re angry with. Even though your anger might drive you to act in ways that honor God, He still loves that person. He loves Richard Dawkins and Fred Phelps and Glenn Beck just as much as He loves you. When we’re mad, the love of God for all people should still be there, prodding us to act in love—even in our righteous anger.

Anger is neutral. You can lash out at your roommate, extend the “you’re number one” finger on the freeway or slow down and ask yourself a tough question: Does this anger God? When we get angry at the things that make God angry and process it properly, that’s the upside of anger. And that can change the world.

Portions of this article are adapted from a RELEVANT magazine article by Ed Young Jr.

53 Comments

85,059

loganbrown commented…

Just a question then. Are we to assume the 1st century society was nothing like ours today? It seems to me that an oppressive empire much like ours was also in power. I would also suggest that if we leave change to the ebb and flow of society, then the Kingdom of God that was being lived out in those 1st century communities has no chance of breaking through into this world. Thus it seems we are in danger of completely missing the challenge of Christ.

85,059

loganbrown commented…

Interesting article. I would call for one small change in the way we interpret Jesus in the temple. Unfortunately, that passage is often pulled out of context and used for proof texting and justifying our anger. Don't misunderstand, I firmly believe that anger is and should be an emotion that we let out of the cage once in while. That said, the passage in question has more to do with the fact that Jesus is angered by the religious elites with their hands in the back pocket of the empire. I'm not sure we can honestly use that passage applying it to making God's house a market. Though I agree that the worship space is often a window into the sacred, I think the bigger picture would challenge us to divorce the american (or in Jesus' time, the Roman) dream from the call of Christ.

85,059

Anonymous commented…

This article helped a lot. I enjoyed. I still don't like what you said about Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck. Even though they might take it too far there may be some truth to what they said. I'm sure that if the Haitians were a Christian nation God would undoubtedly be blessing them more. I just think it's the way they said what they said was wrong. But there is a good amount of truth to it.

You can't be a Christian and think that bad things just randomly happen. God is in control. Maybe the people of Haiti need this to get their country restarted, or maybe in the end it will give them more freedom. Maybe the Haitians as a group needed this to bring them closer to Jesus just like we do when God allows problems to take control of our life to teach us something. Example: Job. Also maybe as a whole the country was very very sinful, and we know in mass sin everyone loses out no one can live the life God intends so again maybe he wanted to make them rethink things, in order to give others new opportunities. Who knows.

85,059

Dlux55 commented…

If you use the Scriptural model of the early church, somewhere along the way, individuals have to be converted to faith in Jesus Christ in order for them to participate effectively in the Kingdom of God. People living in sin have to hear the message of the Cross, make a choice to believe which will result in repentance...Spirit-of-God anointed change, and the beginning of a different life. Life can't continue along the same old wreckage strewn road, hoping things will change without repentance from sin. Take a look at Romans, chapters 7 & 8....read them in one sitting. Beautiful outline of the problem(Romans 7) and the solution(all of Romans 8).
Dlux55

Joshua

45

Joshua commented…

But Jesus never supported that attitude (tragedy is only a result of sin).

There's a passage that mentions a tower that fell on a number of people, killing them, but Jesus said that we should *all* repent, specifying that those people were no more sinful than those who survived.

Furthermore, when the disciples asked whether a blind man's or his parents' sins caused his blindness, Jesus effectively said that it was for the purposes of showing God's glory.

The Bible also says that it rains on the just and the unjust.

My point is that assuming that a tragedy happens because of sin is not an attitude that we should be preaching. If anything, it should be a call to repentance for us, and not just them.

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