“Can I be angry?” That is the #1 Question that has been asked of me as a pastor coming out of the Boston Marathon tragedy. As I mentioned in last week’s blog (“A Christian’s Response to Evil”) even this pastor was not immune to “simmering” a bit in the aftermath.
But is such anger okay? In Ephesians (4:26) Paul says to “Be Angry and do not sin…” but Paul also writes in Colossians (3:8) to “…put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”
Which is it? To be or not to be… angry? There was a deacon in the first church I served in as a youth pastor who believed it was NEVER okay to be angry. When I showed him Ephesians 4:26 (in my naive attempt to “set him straight”) he was still unconvinced (and slightly angry with me).
I have come to believe in these past few decades that though he still wasn’t right, he might be close to telling the truth. Our human anger is seldom righteous and without sin.
And yet… I still firmly believe that there are times (such as the events in Boston last week) when it is wrong NOT to be angry. As Henry Ward Beecher wrote: “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good. Now and then a man should be shaken to the core with indignation over things evil.”
Now this Scripture offers qualifications: Don’t sin with your anger. Don’t let it stay the night. Don’t allow Satan to get a foot hold in your life through it. Vengeful rage is not okay… but a Godly anger is.
Now what does Paul mean in Colossians? The things Paul warns us about there are the steps we might potentially take beyond our initial emotion. The word anger in Colossians 3:8 has as its root the Greek work, “oregomai.” This word means to “stretch out one’s self in order to touch or grasp something or to reach after or desire something.”(Thayer) The anger Paul is talking about here is one that we have “given ourselves over to.” This is expressed in the next four things Paul tells the Colossians to be rid of… 1. wrath (a boiling up type of anger), 2. malice (a desire to injure the object of our wrath), 3. slander (to use our tongue to talk bad about them), and 4. abusive speech (foul and obscene speech toward that person, i.e. “cussing them out”).
Giving ourselves over to our anger seldom turns out well. I read in a Daily Bread Devotional that “in the spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.”
That is a real life illustration of what happens when we give ourselves over to our anger… ourselves and those around us get burned. Is it okay to be angry? Yes… but we are not allow to nurse it, churn it over and over and then dispense it like a high pressure fire hose.
So what do I do with this anger I feel? Many believe that Paul in Ephesians was quoting David in Psalm 4: “In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4, NIV) If that is the case, then we would do well to do what David suggests: “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” (v.4b-5, NASB)
So in the wake of the Boston bombings or whatever other violent act that is sure to follow… be angry that someone would think so callously about human life. But then… calm yourself down… meditate in your heart on the Word of God (perhaps on Colossians 3:8!), and then put your trust in a God of justice who has things well under control.