Friday, November 14, 2008


In reading about Lactantius on anger I was given (or perhaps reminded of) a small new slant on how to view anger. Anger is a gift from God to humans, to be used wisely. It brings certain problems into the open and anger motivates us to do something about those problems. I think surely there's some truth here, but would like to hear your response to it.

Of course God's anger expressed in his wrath and judgment of sin, is also expressed at the cross, where anger and mercy come together (as Gibson on Lactantius says), and the result is forgiveness available for all. This is important, and we need to see everything in the light of the cross, of course. How that plays out in our anger would be interesting to work through.

How do you view anger? Is it a good or bad, or does that depend? Is it really a gift from God? If it is, do humans handle it well- and how can Christians do better?

The chapter by Richard Gibson takes to task the NIV rendering of the Ephesians 4 passage on anger (more accurately, Gibson cites Daniel B. Wallace and his exegesis of Ephesians 4:26-27 with the command to be angry as well as the second command to not let the sun go down on the source of the anger, but instead, to deal with the problem causing the anger):
26"In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.
Gibson notes that literally it's a command to be angry, and yet to not sin in that anger. The NIV rendering is of course an interpretation as to what Paul meant.

We need to be slow to anger (like God that way), but there is a time for it. We need to be careful not to be living in anger, in other words we can't live there for long.

When I've been angry, initially there may have been justification for that, of course it's a response to what I see as wrong, or sometimes less nobly, something I dislike at the time. But I've found that it can lead to bad attitudes and probably toward bitterness (root of bitterness comes to mind) if I don't deal with it right away. It's easy to dwell on the object of my anger, rather than deal with the matter in a constructive way in the grace and truth, or truth and love that are ours in Jesus.

Considering the above questions or just this subject, what would you like to add to this, from your own life or understanding on anger?


Crowm said...

Hey Ted!

I did a paper in undergrad on the difference between righteous wrath and the wrath of man. The task was to use Romans as the "jumping point" and then go from there. It was an eye-opening experience.

I believe all emotions (including anger) are gifts from God. However, when emotions or anything else for that matter, becomes unmanaged, sin is crouching at the door.

Another thing to consider is am I angry because I have a reason to be angry (infanticide, abuse, malnutrition, etc.) or am I angry because of faulty motives (jealousy, etc.)?

Just my thoughts.

Every Square Inch said...

Ted - you only asknowledged the notion that there is a time for anger.

So I have a couple of questions - When is that? What does righteous anger look like i.e. how do I know that I'm operating in righteous anger, not just sinfully angry.

Craver Vii said...

Hi Ted! Dr. Gary Chapman talks about anger in one of his books. He suggests that anger is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is merely an indicator. This instrument gauge notifies us when we sense any injustice, and it was designed by our Creator to help motivate us to action.

The problem is that we, having a sin inclination, often misdiagnose injustices. I might become angry because I think I'm not getting fair treatment, or maybe I misinterpret someone's intentions. But if I see someone trying to kidnap a child, I would not err in feeling indignation that spurs me to protect that child.

This reply was prepared before reading Crowm's and Every Square Inch's comments, but I think the ideas overlap.

Anonymous said...

i agree that we should not hold on to anger.

it needs to be looked at for where it comes from and what it is and what it is doing to us and to others.

it can truly lead to many more hurts and more anger.

i wonder about action that comes out of this particular emotion without Love.

Ted M. Gossard said...

To all,

I added just now, before the quote a clarification in regard to the chapter, from Gibson's citing of Daniel B. Wallace.

Lactantius does seem to put a clear value on humans expressing anger, while noting that it is to be short-lived and is meant to correct what is wrong and was reacted against in anger. And he knew how it could be wrong, and distinguished such, like in envy. And Lactantius went against the theological (and prevailing philosophical) grain of his times in making it clear God is not passive contra the popular belief then, but does express anger, yet in perfect divine proportions.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I agree. Anger is a gift and is part of our being like God, I think, especially as we express anger toward things that are displeasing to God such as those you mention.

I like what Gibson says and in which Lactantius, if I read Gibson correctly, was weak or at least didn't go to in certain settings- in going to the cross we see God's vengeance taken care of, and God's forgiveness applied to sinners and indeed, enemies, so that now as his people, we are to do the same. Lactantius (or at least Gibson) call for the anger to help us in love correct what is wrong among us as God's people, correction in the church. I don't know how helpful that really is, that last thought. Maybe that's a reflection on me, where I'm at, or just a personality matter, I don't know.

Ted M. Gossard said...

It's really a tough question. Scripture does not seem to me to rule out righteous anger in us humans. But it is strictly qualified, so that we do best to err on the side of grace.

I would like to have anger only at the thought of the evil done itself, and not on the ones doing it. Instead we need compassion on them.

I do find it certain that if we love the good, we will hate what is the opposite of it (Ecclesiastes 3- a time for love and a time for hate, etc.).

As to differentiating, I wouldn't want to get all hung up on that, trying to discern motives. What I see as wise in this chapter is when such anger inevitably arises, we need to deal with the source of it quickly, and in doing so, we may be motivated to doing God's will in a way that is needed in a given situation. Anger is not something we're to live in.

Just my thoughts here, and from what I gather from the chapter.

Ted M. Gossard said...

That looks like a good book, and good thoughts from Chapman.

Yes, anger has its place, but we just have to let it go soon, either way- either with constructive work, or with confession, and maybe even both.


Ted M. Gossard said...


I agree with all you say, except that I think anger can be, and indeed should be an expression of love, of love violated in some way. So that we let it go and prayerfully act with God in dealing with the problem. Maybe initially at least, only in prayer, and with loving action following.

lorenzothellama said...

We can all make anger seem to be righteous anger if it ourselves that is angry!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Lorenzo the Llama,
You are so right. We're experts at rationalizing and justifying all we do, even when we really know better. Or at least excusing ourselves.

Hope you're keeping warmer over in the UK than we are here in Michigan. My fingers are nearly froze (it seems) as I type.

Diane said...


I do think anger can be indication of injustice or inequity or more generally, of a problem to be dealt with.

However, I find that anger can be destructive because people react out of the emotion instead of working through it. I believe we should sit with our anger until we are able to pray beyond the emotion.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks. I find your thoughts here helpful:

"However, I find that anger can be destructive because people react out of the emotion instead of working through it. I believe we should sit with our anger until we are able to pray beyond the emotion."

I've found that when I react swiftly even though it seems right at the time, I have often later regretted it, or at least had second thoughts. Much better to do as you say here.

Litl-Luther said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Litl-Luther said...

Certainly scripture does NOT rule out righteous anger in God’s people. We see the Holy Spirit working in the anger of Jesus turning over the money changer's tables; in Stephen's harsh words to his hearers in Acts 7:51-53 (righteous anger which led to Stephen's murder); in Paul pronouncing a curse upon Elymas. (Acts 13:9-11)

If you look at the above examples they say things such as "filled with the Spirit..." right before angry words and actions come out of their mouths! The same could be said about Peter's sermons in Acts 2 & 3. Moreover, there are also Paul and James righteous anger toward the church as well (Gal. 1:6-9; 3:1; James 4:8-10).

There seems no doubt that anger is “the holy response” to certain situations at times (since it appears to be the Holy Spirit inciting righteous indignation in His people). But as has been said, what we think is our righteous indignation is often merely sin in disguise.