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What Luther Says

Is 'Righteous Anger' A Biblical Concept?

I know it's the holiday season, that we're smack dab in the middle of Advent, and that Christmas is next week, but I need to take a few minutes to address the subject of "anger" and particularly so-called "righteous anger" we so often hear about as Christians.

Everywhere you turn these days, it seems like someone is angry about something!

Whether warranted or not, I'm noticing more and more believers (myself included) being tempted to get caught up by an issue or news item that "offends" us and then being tempted to fall into a pattern of lashing out in anger as though it were a healthy, natural, and acceptable response for believers as long as we label it as "righteous anger."

Ok, so what does the Bible have to say about anger? Doesn't it differentiate between "good" and "bad" forms of anger or do we just use the label of "righteous anger" to excuse our sinful feelings and responses?

I guess the best place to start is for us to look at a theological paper that sought to address this subject as comprehensively as possible...

The Myth of "Righteous Anger": What The Bible Says About Human Anger 
This essay chiefly aims to describe what the Bible, and especially the New Testament, actually says about human anger. This is the main goal of my study. At the end and as a second purpose, I will offer some personal and pastoral reflections on anger in our lives, and how to deal with it (rather than deny or ignore it). 
Let me invite my reader to read my first sentence again; in fact, I’ll just repeat it myself: “This essay chiefly aims to describe what the Bible, and especially the New Testament, actually says about human anger.” I decided to repeat myself because as I have been talking with other Christians, some clergy and some lay, about this study and about what I’ve been finding in the Scriptures, most people have objected to and at times even instinctively rejected the clear, simple answer to the question, “What does the Bible, and chiefly the NT, say about anger?” These friends and colleagues have not wanted to talk about what the Bible actually says about anger. They’ve wanted to move quickly, instinctively to other topics. People have offered special circumstances, or qualified the scriptural testimony—seemingly anything to avoid being confronted by the answer to a question that, once you search for it, is not hard to find and is really quite clear. If I may speak frankly, without exception my Christian friends and colleagues have wanted to justify their anger; each time they have done this, they have appealed to the category of “righteous anger.” And, to be sure, their comments and qualification have not been without merit, and that’s why I’ll conclude this essay with some reflections of a more personal and pastoral nature. 
For Christians, however, when the Scriptures speak to an issue extensively and clearly, that’s the place where the discussions should start, and not somewhere else. So, let me say it again. This essay chiefly aims to describe what the Bible, and chiefly the New Testament, says about human anger—and that teaching is pretty clear and pretty direct. 
There are four reasons why I decided to do this (fairly basic) study. The first is quite personal: I have a temper, and I regularly am angry. What I have observed about myself when I am angry is that I rarely do or say the wise or loving thing if I simply act out of the anger. To be sure, when I am angry I have lots of energy to do things—do something—but in the times that I have acted in anger or have been chiefly motivated by it, the things I have chosen to do turned out badly and hurtfully for others every time. 
The second motivation for this study arose from my initial impressions from reading the New Testament. There is, of course, Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in which he equates being angry with one’s fellow disciples with murder, rendering us fully liable to God’s eschatological judgment (Mt 5:21‒26). This in itself is quite enough to invite further study. I became curious, about gaining a fuller grasp of the biblical witness.  
Third, in my own involvement in the life arena, I have become more aware than ever before of how often “pro-lifers” speak and write and act in ways that flow directly from their own anger.[1] In a practical sort of way, it seems pretty clear that angry speaking or acting will rarely prove persuasive or helpful; it only preaches to the choir of other “pro-lifers” who are also angry. So, I decided that I would like to do something to change the tenor and tone of things. Ironically, the few times I have tried to teach such “pro-lifers” about the New Testament’s teaching about anger, these persons became angry at me and (I am not proud to say) I in return was angry at them. This motivated me to think and study more about the topic. 
Finally, I am quite convinced that the United States of America in the twenty-first century is a profoundly angry culture, and in contemporary discourse anger (often labeled “outrage”) is almost regarded as a virtue. When someone with whom we agree “goes off on” someone with whose position we disagree, we applaud the anger, the belittling, the demeaning words. One factor that seems clearly (at least to me) to be at work behind the distressing number of shootings and mass murders in our country is the generally angry and violent tone of significant aspects of our culture.[2] As Christians, if I am correct about this, we find ourselves living in an angry culture, and there is a great danger that the culture’s catechesis about anger will affect and infect the church. 
For all of these reasons, then, I’ve spent some time learning about what the Bible says about anger. I’ll begin with a cursory look at some texts and tendencies in the Old Testament, and then spend more focused attention on the New Testament.[3] As I said above, following the Scripture study I’ll devote some space to personal and pastoral applications. For we cannot deny that we all get angry; to pretend otherwise would be folly. All we can do is learn what God’s word says about it, and then try to apply that teaching in life-giving ways that seek to love even our enemies, as Jesus taught.

That was merely the Introduction to that piece, but who reading this right now would object to taking the time to read the whole thing, especially in this socio-politically-charged climate we currently find ourselves in?

As the author aptly noted, "I am quite convinced that the United States of America in the twenty-first century is a profoundly angry culture, and in contemporary discourse anger (often labeled 'outrage') is almost regarded as a virtue." Me too!

Later, he asserts that, "There is a place for anger, and for vengeance. But it does not belong to the disciples of Jesus; that prerogative belongs to God alone."

If you want the abridged version or don't have the patience to read through the entire study, then here's what this particular Pastor concluded from his Bible study on this topic...

The Bible, and especially the New Testament, teaches straightforwardly that human anger is a common and dangerous reality in our lives. That is the dominant message, and it should be the dominant way that Christians think about their anger. It would be going too far, I believe, to say that the emotional reaction of anger is always and intrinsically sinful; it is not. It would not be going too far, however, to say that anger is always spiritually dangerous and that we need to deal with it seriously and piously. Anger is never extolled; it is not a fruit of the Spirit. As I noted above, the connection between anger and actual sin is so close that both Christ Jesus and his apostles can simply equate the two: anger in many New Testament texts simply is a form of sin. 
This means that, if American society currently extols “outrage” and admires those who speak out of anger and who speak with angry words and insults, then believers must reject that cultural value. We have a responsibility to stand out and to be different, as salt and light. Even when we feel angry at the injustice or evil or immorality in the world around us, we are not to give free reign to that anger—and then justify our sin by labeling it “righteous anger.” 
Is there such a thing as “righteous anger”? With regard to sinful human creatures, the answer is, “It is a theoretical possibility.” Nowhere, however, are we commanded to act in righteous anger and even when it seems a possibility (as with Eph 4:25‒27 or Jas 1:18‒19), there is an immediate warning against sinning. For what it’s worth, I suspect that the category of “righteous anger” most of the time is a smoke screen, an attempt to justify sarcasm and punitive actions and angry insults. Yes, in the case of Moses or Elijah or Paul, the texts do narrate that they were angry and then acted in response to evil of some sort. But this does not mean we should think that our anger is like theirs, or even that in their anger they did not sin at all. And if someone would like to appeal to the anger of Almighty God or of the Lord Jesus Christ in support for the category of “righteous anger,” the simple answer is that God is pure and unable to sin and the Lord Jesus Christ was perfect. And we are not.

This is most certainly true.

Maybe you more of an "audio/visual learner" instead and reading all of that just didn't hammer home the point as well as it should have. That's ok. Here are a couple of helpful videos from Worldview Everlasting that might help as well...

Grappling With The Text: Luther, Life, And Anger (The 5th Commandment) 
In this extended edition of Grappling with the Text we hear from Luther as he unfolds the instruction and wisdom of the 5th Commandment. 

In Your Anger Do Not Nephilim 
So when is anger sinful? Can I be angry and not sin? And what about God being angry? Vocation actually comes in to this answer, as does Romans 13. 

Dropkick: The KJV Conundrum 
We answer a viewer question about extra words in the KJV translation of the Bible, as well as deal with the Christian experience of anger. 

At this point, these should be more than enough resources to help us to realize that we might want to rethink the whole "righteous anger" defense whenever we respond in anger.

At the very least, we want to perhaps stop for a moment and think twice and make sure our feelings and responses are appropriate while knowing we have Christ's grace, mercy, and forgiveness for those times when we don't always respond Biblically as we should, and end up repenting of those sins.

Pastor Matt Richard also shared this quote about anger that's a good place for us to end today.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, "Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the 
bosom of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). 

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just your average everyday Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to "Confessional Lutheranism" and one who recently escaped an American-Evangelical-Non-Denominational mindset a little more than 4 years ago now despite being a Christian my whole life. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way back into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with the Bible, our Confessions, and Lutheran doctrine in general (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can not only correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1), but repent of my sin and learn the whole truth myself. With that in mind, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavily influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I will defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!

About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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