The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Your question makes an important distinction, but unless it is carefully watched it will smudge together with the other things we have been talking about—bitterness, malice, hatred, lack of forgiveness, and so on. You asked about the role of anger, and the appropriateness of anger. Is it a sin to be angry about what happened to you?
My answer might surprise you, but will also reveal the need for the distinctions I just mentioned. I actually believe it would be a sin not to be angry about what happened to you. But . . .
But before getting into that, let me say again why I am so concerned about responses like malicious resentment or hatred, and so interested in helping you steer clear of anything remotely like that—and then relate that to your question about anger. Your father wronged you in grievous ways, but there are ways of responding to him that simply perpetuate his wrong-doing. There is a way of being bitter that keeps him in charge, and makes sure that he and his sin remain the dominant and controlling element of your life. He did destructive things to you, and if you also do destructive things to yourself in response, then what you are actually doing is teaming up with him in order to “beat up on” Gabrielle.
In other words, there is a response to him that feels like it is contrary to him, but which is actually saying amen to his treatment of you. What we want for you is for you to be able to walk away free.
Anger is in a different category than malice or bitterness. And that is because the Bible describes instances where anger is the righteous response. Let me give you a few instances of that, and then go on to make the distinctions and applications.
The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus was angry when He cleansed the Temple, but I would argue that He almost certainly was. He certainly did not do that work in a calm and dispassionate way. “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17). The one place where it does say that Jesus got angry is with the episode of the man in the synagogue with a withered hand.
“And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other” (Mark 3:5).
But notice in this the consequences of Christ’s anger. The result of His anger was a cleansed Temple and a healed hand. When Christ got angry, the result was positive, constructive. When we get angry, the result is more often a hole in the sheet rock or some broken dishes.
And yet, even though it is easy for us to do it wrong, we are commanded to be angry under certain circumstances, and in a certain way.
“Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Eph. 4:26).
The phrase be ye angry is translating a command. It is an imperative—be angry. But it says two things in effect. Paul says be angry and be careful. In saying this, he is quoting from the Psalms. “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah” (Ps. 4:4, ESV). So Scripture says that we are to be angry, but Paul also adds that we are to take pains to avoid falling into sin with that anger. The nature of that kind of sin can be seen just a few verses down.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).
The way he tells us to keep our anger from going rancid is by refusing to let the sun go down on it. If we take our example from the Lord, we can add two other criteria. The first is that the provocation to anger must be an affront to righteousness, not an affront to our own egos. Second, the anger must motivate us to some constructive action. If it is indeterminate, and just wants to smash “something,” then it is man’s anger—and Scripture is plain on this point also. “Know this, my beloved brothers: 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” (Jas. 1:19–20, ESV).
Carnal anger does not advance God’s kingdom. It does not do useful work. So if we are angered by something that is merely an inconvenience to us, like someone driving too slowly ahead of us, then our anger is sinful. And even if it is a righteous occasion, if we do not have a constructive outlet for what we are experiencing, then we ought to resist it as a temptation. And last, even if the occasion is righteous, and there is something we think we can do about it, Paul still warns us to get it all completed before sundown.
Righteous anger in the heart of sinful men and women is like manna from heaven. It can be a gift from God and still go bad overnight. “Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank” (Ex. 16:20).
So with all that said, how does your situation line up with these criteria? Your father’s offense against you, and his refusal to repent of it, presents you with a true offense, but it is a standing offense. He is in prison, and the sun has gone down many times since his sentencing. I would therefore urge you to avoid any kind of standing anger in response. The reason for that is not that the anger is unjust or misplaced, but rather that we have no way of “refrigerating it” to keep it from becoming rancid. And if it becomes rancid, it only hurts you. He wouldn’t know about it—off in prison, he is unaware of how he is affecting you. The wrong kind of anger won’t hurt him, and it will hurt you.
But let’s say that you receive a letter from him, and in it he says something particularly egregious or clueless. Let’s say that what he says in this fresh provocation makes you angry. There is no problem with that. You would have to be a block of wood or stone if you didn’t get angry. The occasion meets the criteria we have established. His offense against you is not a trifle, and your anger is not an over-reaction. Secondly, you are living in a situation where you could seek out a constructive outlet for that anger. Your aunt tells me that you have been volunteering at the counseling center, helping those who are helping others deal with situations very much like yours. Even though you are not counseling women directly, you can take your work there and offer it up to God. You can ask Him to receive it as the fruit of your anger.
This is not the same thing as merely “venting.” When you vent (whether by driving fast, or listening to loud music, or by throwing yourself into an intense workout), the point is to offload what you feel. The problem with this is that there is a law of diminishing returns at work. The more you do it, the more you find that you need to do it more. But when you translate your anger into a cleansed Temple or a healed hand, you can glorify God for the work done, and ask Him to receive it completely. And that means you can go to sleep that night without that anger twisting in your brains all night. If that were to happen, you would discover that by morning it has turned into something else, and it is a something else that is no more your friend than your father was.
Cordially . . .