Wrath Or Anger?
We come finally to the last deadly sin: Wrath or anger.
Listen to this Jeremiad: This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled to the brim with my anger, and make all nations to whom I send you drink from it” (Jeremiah 25:15). The “cup of the wine of the wrath of God”, as the Hebrew literally says, is the cup of the righteous anger or judgment of God. God was angry with his people and with the nations in their disobedience. There is a point of no return when the axe of judgment falls upon debauchery. And God’s anger is the driving force.
In a final way, Jesus downed this judgment cup with one crucifying gulp when our judgment was nailed to his cross. But as long as the cosmos remains rebellious against God the residue of the anger of God remains as an instrument of judgment and reconciliation.
So much for God’s anger; what about ours? Since we are made in the image of God, is not anger or wrath part of the human gene pool? So we deduce then that there must be a right anger and a wrong anger since it is inconceivable to call God’s anger wrong.
Right anger serves and protects something good. The world God created is good, and we, the apex of creation, are very good even if we are desperately flawed. Anything that causes this goodness to wane or be destroyed incurs the judging wrath of God. In turn, we who are imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1-2) also make right and wrong anger choices. Righteous anger is God’s way of protecting the good, of purifying the world and our hearts. The wrong or sinful anger promotes the dark side of rebellion.
What is right anger? One time someone attempted to harm one of my children. I became a fiery and irritable 5-foot ball of anger. This kind of anger is right, fair and just. Justice and putting things to rights demands it. When the poor suffer and are taken advantage of, God is angry and we should be too. Not at God, not at ourselves. At a world system we are determined to transform in our anger. When a woman is abused in any way, our anger leads us to sympathize with her. Is justice even possible without right anger? Probably not! Until the kingdom of God comes in a final way and the will of God is done anger is the right response to injustice of any kind. Angry feelings, stemming from these situations, are not sinful. They fit well with Paul’s repetition of an Old Testament teaching to be angry but without committing sin or breaking a commandment of God. Letting the sun go down on this anger does not seem right.
The right kind of wrath is part of the life of the heroes of Scripture. Abraham beats the tar out of Lot’s rival warlords. I assure you he did not enter the war in love. Moses, by God’s voice, encouraged an eye for an eye, and made mincemeat of Egypt. And what to say of all the prophets of Israel, who railed against injustice, abuse of God’s moral law, and life in the fast lane of sin? Just as God’s wrath is positive and active so must our anger be.
Our problem is with the wrong anger, the Cain kind of anger that acts to destroy brother and neighbor (raising Cain we say). Rather than love, hatred digs its ugly claws into the seat of anger. The passage in Genesis 4 tells us that Cain branded his moral compass with the seal of internal anger. He then nursed the internal scar until it broke through his skin in the form of a hateful killing club.
But physical violence is not the only anger we commit. Pride, greed, and envy often lead to backbiting, slighting, or demeaning language against our neighbor. “How many reputations have you killed, O unrestrained anger?”
Then again, angry feelings are not always served piping hot or sported at the tip of the tongue or dangled on the sleeve. Often vengeance is calculated in the frigid temperatures of anger. Stafford (Disordered Loves, 82) quotes this Spanish Proverb: Vengeance is a dish best eaten cold. Vengeful anger injures with a deliberate word (a disposition of character that calls a neighbor a fool, Jesus said), withholding goodness, or ongoing unforgiveness.
And this: Displaced anger. I had to stop the other day when I realized I was beginning to react angrily to a situation. I quizzed my soul: Why are you angry within me? My soul admitted: I am angry at the injustice of a previous situation and because you haven’t let go of it, you’re wearing your anger on your sleeve in this other situation.” Touché! I took a mental shower and returned to my usual self.
Put away your wrong anger? But where? On the cross where Jesus traded hate for love. Those who walk with the master train their souls to respond with love when hate is more natural, when vengeance is pleasurable, and when keeping that angry piece of our minds we’re so willing to part with, right where it belongs: On the lips of prayer.
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