In the last post we looked at some of the biblical warnings about anger. This time I’ll note that sometimes, according to the same Scripture, anger is justified.
The Bible speaks of a good many angry persons. The person mentioned most is—God. And by definition, if God is doing something, it’s good. His anger is justified.
Why is his anger justified?
Note that he’s not angry out of frustration that his worldview has insufficient explanatory power. He’s not angry out of selfishness. He’s not angry out of lack of control.
He’s angry out of justice and out of love. His anger is a disciplined, perfect expression of his character, and particularly his commitment to the benefit of human beings, who are in his image.
He’s angry because injustice is being committed, to the deep damage of those whom he loves. And his anger yields not chaotic destruction, but resolution. His anger motivates him to address and resolve the problem.
We should be the same kind of people.
If you see injustice, you ought to be angry. And you ought to do something—constructive—about it.
I had an experience as a middle-school student that profoundly affected my thinking on this issue.
I was riding on a city bus in greater Boston—the MBTA—when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I was seated sideways on the bus, facing the center aisle, toward the back. Across the aisle from me and back a ways, seated facing forward, was an old man, probably in his 70s, looking fairly frail. Behind him, on the bench that spanned the back of the bus, was a group of 3 or 4 tough-looking 20-somethings. One of them placed his muddy boot up on the old man’s seat next to him.
After a bit the man turned and quietly asked the owner of the foot if he’d mind taking his boot off the seat. The fellow replied, “Yes, I mind, and if you ask me again, I’ll take this boot and put it through your face.”
The terror on the old man’s face was evident to all of us.
At that moment a young man sitting directly across from the old man rose to his feet and said with rising anger, “The **** you will.”
Almost immediately 2 or 3 other men in the area stood as well, glaring silently at the bully.
At the commotion, the bus driver pulled over and walked to the back of the bus. When he’d determined what had happened, he told the bully to get off the bus, and his friends went with him.
The old man looked gratefully at his defender and said, “Thank you.”
And in a few minutes, when the bus completed its journey up Mt. Auburn Street to Harvard Square, we all disembarked and went our separate ways.
That was more than 50 years ago. I remember it as though it were yesterday.
Four short, one-syllable, staccato words. And justice.
Well, some folks might think that real justice would have been doing to the bully what he had threatened to do to the old man. I won’t argue with that.
But this incident, and many more similar ones that all of us could cite, demonstrate conclusively that sometimes anger—constructive anger—is exactly the right thing. In the moment that he stood and spoke, the old man’s defender, though certainly, like all of us, a flawed human being, was being profoundly virtuous; he was in fact radiating the image of God.
It’s right to be angry at injustice. It’s right to be angry at evil of any kind. And in that moment it’s right to be motivated by that anger to move beyond frustration to constructive resolution of the injustice, while maintaining purposeful self-control.
Be ye angry, and sin not (Ep 4.26).