What is "Righteous Anger"?

How can I know whether I'm feeling that or just being a hothead?
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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.

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.

Lisa Harper has a Masters in Theology with an emphasis in biblical studies from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. She's a sought-after speaker and has written several books, including Holding Out for a Hero: A New Spin on Hebrews (Tyndale) and What the Bible Is All About for Women: A Book of Devotions (Regal). Visit her at www.lisaharper.net.

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