This morning I want to say a few words about anger. The Bible teaches that it is possible to be angry and yet not sin; there is such a thing as righteous anger. And yet, as we saw in the book of James, we are still told to be slow to anger, because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. I want us to think about why our anger is unable to produce God’s righteousness.
Anger is, as Pastor Jonathan and Tim Keller have written, an expression and manifestation of love. Anger is what love looks like when it seeks to protect and defend what we love from some danger. It’s what love looks like when love’s object is threatened. Another way to look at it is that anger is how we respond to reality not going our way. Calmness and gentleness won’t work here, we think, so anger is called in to wrestle reality back into its proper form.
This is why anger is so dangerous. In its attempt to protect our loves, anger often skews reality. In its attempt to wrestle reality back into place, it actually distorts reality. For most of us, anger is the kind of emotion that needs justification. No one wants to be a hothead, flying off the handle for no reason. And so when our anger flares up, it seeks to portray reality in such a way that our anger is justified. Thus, in our anger it’s easy to exaggerate the offenses of others in order to feel justified in our anger. We turn them into demons because they’re easier to hate. Their sin must get bigger so that our anger is not disproportionate. Under the influence of anger, other people’s molehills become mountains, and their mountains become, well, bigger mountains. Their honest mistakes are transformed into willful acts of malice. It wasn’t a simple misunderstanding; they deliberately provoked us.
But anger distorts reality in another way. Not only does it exaggerate the sins of others, it minimizes our own. It shrinks them into oblivion. In order to stay justified in our anger, not only must they be big sinners, but we must be righteous saints. Because we desperately want the anger of man—our anger—to produce the righteousness of God, we reason backwards. We know that righteous anger flows from righteous people. And, since anger is flowing out of us right now, we must convince ourselves that we are righteous, sweeping our own faults and sins under the rug. Whatever faults we have are excusable; after all, we were maliciously provoked by that wicked person.
So anger is dangerous because in our efforts to justify our anger, we exaggerate the faults of others and minimize our own. And that kind of distortion can never produce the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness is clear and pure and true. It doesn’t exaggerate and it never minimizes. It sets things in their precise proportion.
For now, here are two practical ways to fight anger in our lives. First, we must cultivate the habit of examining our anger when it arises. In the moment of passion, we must step outside of ourselves and ask what is really provoking us. We must diffuse the anger by analyzing the anger. Which of our loves is threatened? What part of reality are we trying to wrestle into place? Is our anger clouding our vision?
Second, we must counteract our natural tendency toward self-justification. Most of us have a decided bias in our own favor. We have faults and flaws; other people have sins and wickedness. Thus, we must learn to be skeptical of our own excuses and be on the lookout for our exaggerations. Other Christians are essential in this effort. Life Groups must act as a sounding board, challenging the distortions that we make of ourselves and others.
And of course, this kind of self-awareness and correction is only possible by the grace of God. So let’s seek him together now.
Prayer of Confession
Our Father and God, you tell us to be slow to anger, because you yourself are slow to anger. Your anger is not a passion. You are not swept away by it, as though anger controlled you. You are who you are, and therefore your anger is always the perfect expression of your holy character.
Father, we confess that our anger is not like this. Our anger overpowers our reason and our will. In our anger, we have sinned, and sinned grievously. We have exaggerated the faults of others in order to justify ourselves. We have treated our anger as a moral disinfectant, as though we could be purified by the intensity of our wrath. We have twisted reality to conform to our passions. This is a great evil. Forgive us, O God, for our futile attempts to produce your righteousness through our anger. Have mercy upon us, O God, for we are miserable offenders.
Father, we know that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now.
Father, we thank you that, because you are slow to anger, you hear our pleas for mercy, and you are quick to forgive. You are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. We exalt your steadfast love to us in Christ, and we ask that you would renew our hearts so that our thoughts, desires, and loves align with your own. Through Christ we pray, Amen.