Reflections: Righteous Indignation (Is there such a thing?)

The Annual Darwin Awards are given each year, saluting those whose actions demonstrate that the human genome is not always improving.  One such Darwin Award nominee are five inebriated Michigan men and a hunting dog who, intending to duck hunt, attempted to open up an ice-covered pond with a stick of dynamite.  After consulting with each other about the safest way to explode the dynamite, they decided that the man with the best arm would launch it once lit.  Which he did.  When he did, the dynamite thrower’s hunting dog, a retriever, bolted to fetch the stick.    When the dog’s retrieving instinct overruled his master’s frantic commands to stop, the master pulled his birdshot-loaded shotgun from his new Jeep and shot his approaching dog.  More startled than hurt, Rover kept on coming.  When Rover was shot a second time, he sought refuge to lick his wounds – under the new $30,000 Jeep.

In this case, no Darwin Award was issued, as it was determined this was a classic urbane legend.  But that exploding stick, the inebriated men, and the bewildered dog are a vivid example of the danger and damage of anger.  No doubt about it, we live in an angry world, and anger swirls as an emotion in all of us at some level.  Whether anger is a part of our design as being made in the image of God, or a consequence of the Fall, I will leave to theologians.  What I do know is that a whole lot of people who claim to be followers of Jesus (like me, for example) have a category of anger that is acceptable and even commendable to throw around at others.

Is there such a thing as “righteous anger?”

We call it, righteous indignation,  getting ticked – really ticked – over a spiritual or moral issue that we believe cheapens the reputation of God or the vitality of the Church or the viability of our society or the value of a person.   Followers of Jesus will point to several incidents in the life of our Master as examples.  We normally will start with Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple and using a whip to drive cheating peddlers from the Temple.  We then move on to Jesus’ lambasting Pharisees in Matthew 23.  We bring in the Apostle Paul as further evidence, often quoting Ephesians 4:26:  “Be angry, and yet do not sin” (vs. 26), suggesting with a raised knowing eyebrow that NOT being angry in some cases would be a GREATER sin.  (We seldom quote verses 31-32)

I am beginning to conclude that righteous anger is dynamite which should seldom be lit, and should NEVER be thrown.  Let’s put our righteous indignation away and hide the matches.  Here’s why

1.        Anger never achieves God’s purposes.

Who says?  Well, the Holy Spirit says through James.  “…be slow to anger, knowing the anger of man does not accomplish the righteous purposes of God.”   Ask yourself, “When has my coming totally unglued with ‘righteous anger’ ever really helped to resolve a problem or mend a relationship?”   Before you come up with an example, I mean helped long-term?  Oh, it may have forced someone to comply for a bit.  But did it change the hearts that brought the issue to a head in the first place?  Not even GOD uses this destructive force often (if ever).  Romans tell us that it is “the kindness of God that leads to repentance”(2:4) in a person, a church, or a society I would argue.

2.       Anger ignores our limited perspective.

It shows we are clueless about our own baggage and bondage.  If we had a clue, anger would be replaced by compassion – a ‘but for the grace of God, that could and probably would be me’ emotional reaction.  It also ignores our almost total lack of understanding of the life situation of the other person, or in the case of an issue, its complexity.

So why did Jesus practice righteous anger?  Unlike us, Jesus didn’t have limited perspective.  His heart was pure and he could perceive what was in the hearts of those around him who ticked his closest followers off (see Luke 9:51-56).  And when he became indignant, it accomplished a righteous result, not unthinkable damage to others and the cause of Christ

You and I aren’t Jesus.  We aren’t even close.   When it comes to righteous anger,  I suggest we hide the matches, and stop throwing the dynamite at others.

What do you think?

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