Anger is not always sin. There is a type of anger of which the Bible approves, often called “righteous indignation.” God is angry (Psalm 7:11; Mark 3:5), and believers are commanded to be angry (Ephesians 4:26). Two Greek words in the New Testament are translated as “anger.” One means “passion, energy” and the other means “agitated, boiling.” Biblically, anger is God-given energy intended to help us solve problems. Examples of Biblical anger include David’s being upset over hearing Nathan the prophet sharing an injustice (2 Samuel 12) and Jesus’ anger over how some of the Jews had defiled worship at God’s temple in Jerusalem (John 2:13-18). Notice that neither of these examples of anger involved self-defense, but a defense of others or of a principle.
That being said, it is important to recognize that anger at an injustice inflicted against oneself is also appropriate. Anger has been said to be a warning flag—it alerts us to those times when others are attempting to or have violated our boundaries. God cares for each individual. Sadly, we do not always stand up for one another, meaning that sometimes we must stand up for ourselves. This is especially important when considering the anger that victims often feel. Victims of abuse, violent crime, or the like have been violated in some way. Often while experiencing the trauma, they do not experience anger.
Later, in working through the trauma, anger will emerge. For a victim to reach a place of true health and forgiveness, he or she must first accept the trauma for what it was. In order to fully accept that an act was unjust, one must sometimes experience anger. Because of the complexities of trauma recovery, this anger is often not short-lived, particularly for victims of abuse. Victims should process through their anger and come to a place of acceptance, even forgiveness. This is often a long journey. As God heals the victim, the victim’s emotions, including anger, will follow. Allowing the process to occur does not mean the person is living in sin.
What then is “Righteous Anger”?
How can I know whether I’m feeling that or just being a hothead?
I grew up believing anger was a “bad” emotion. So I’ve needed several years of Christian counseling even to admit I get angry, much less to learn I can express those feelings righteously! Thankfully, God’s Word sets clear parameters for getting peeved. – Lisa Harper
What does God say about this? The bad news for hotheads is that Scripture contains many more verses warning believers against blowing their cool than verses advocating such behavior. The writer of Proverbs connects anger with foolishness: “Fools quickly show that they are upset, but the wise ignore insults” (Proverbs 12:16, NCV). And the apostle Paul recommends letting our heavenly Father fight our battles: “My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: ‘I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, NCV).
Sometimes, however, God allows his people to fuss and remain faithful. Such is the case when King David furrows his brow and huffs:
God, I wish you would kill the wicked!
Get away from me, you murderers!
They say evil things about you.
Your enemies use your name thoughtlessly.
Lord, I hate those who hate you;
I hate those who rise up against you.
I feel only hate for them;
they are my enemies (Psalm 139:19–22, NCV).
Or when Nehemiah gets upset after learning about the wealthy Israelites’ exploitation of the poor: “Then I was very angry when I had heard … these words” (Nehemiah 5:6, NASB).
What’s noteworthy in these situations is that David called down curses on sworn enemies of God, and Nehemiah directed his irritation at the “haves” repressing the “have-nots.” Both men were angry because of ungodly people or activities.
And Jesus expressed anger—at the Pharisees who exhibited such hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5) and at the crass commercialism that sullied the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48)—to convey extreme displeasure over sin. Those reasons are the key to righteous anger.
How does this affect me? As Christ-followers, we’re totally appropriate getting upset over sin, too. Evils such as abuse, racism, pornography, and child sex trafficking should incense us.
But no matter how reprehensible the people or activities we’re condemning, we still aren’t justified to sin in our responses: “When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day” (Ephesians 4:26, NCV). Those of us with confrontational personalities might want to ask ourselves the question, Is my motive to be right or to be righteous? before ripping into the offending parties.
Such considerations also help us be pokey in getting peeved: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19–20, ESV). Instead of replying immediately, simply counting to ten before reacting usually leads to much better results in a contentious situation.
Then after we take offense, we should take redemptive action. Christians must get involved with organizations working to free children from slavery and volunteer at shelters working to protect battered women. We must lead the charge against hatred and oppression and cruelty!
Ultimately, if our outrage results in restoring people into loving, healing relationships with Jesus, it’s righteous anger.