It's Not Fair! Defining Our Desire by God's Will
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle once said "Emotions are wonderful servants; they're horrible masters." Anger might be the trickiest of these core emotions to tame and harness towards productive, righteous living. At least it is for me.
The best definition I have ever heard for anger came from my group counseling professor in seminary. In her words, anger comes "...When I don't get what I want." We like to dress it up with big words and phrases, but I think it's really as simple as that. In its purest sense, anger comes from our divine imprint as being made in the image of a just and holy God. However, in our fallen nature, we quickly latch on to an attitude of entitlement that confuses what is right with what we claim to be our personal rights (as if God owes us anything).
The rise of radical individualism (or more accurately idolatry of self) and subscription to the lie of relative truth have only further exacerbated the matter. How often do we hear some form of the declaration that "If I want it, it must be God's will"? To take it a step further, many people genuinely believe that if we do not both agree with and actively support their unhealthy lifestyle or choice, then we must hate and reject them. This pure lie from Hell doesn't even make sense. How can we both love someone and lie to them about something that we believe is hurting them?
The deception of unrighteous anger gets far more subtle than hate speech and group divisions. It can be as simple as a clever putdown dressed up as a concern... a word of gossip veiled as a prayer request for someone who is struggling... a pious declaration of our supremacy of thought that antagonizes any attempt at true discourse... a self-pitying, self loathing comment trying to pass itself off as humility. Anger that puts us, rather than God, at the center of the matter, is not justice seeking. It is self-righteousness, and that's idolatry.
Of the many Psalms that address injustice, Psalm 37 may be my favorite. Even in the face of true injustice and legitimate cause for offense, it takes the focus off of the perceived offender and puts it back on God. It encourages us to let God take care of the injustice and sin of others and to focus on maintaining our own integrity as just and faithful follower of God. Verses 8-9 (CEB translation) exhort us to let go of our anger and leave the vindication to God:
"Let go of anger and leave rage behind! Don’t get upset—it will only lead to evil. Because evildoers will be eliminated, but those who hope in the Lord—they will possess the land."
Even better, verses 3-4 (CEB) promise wonderful fruits for those who forego their "right" to offense in exchange for a deeper focus on their own walk:
"Trust the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Enjoy the Lord, and he will give what your heart asks."
Here's the irony. If we focus on our own understanding of justice, we probably won't gain anything more than festering anger. But when we surrender our desires to the Lord and live determined to seek after God's will in all things, we will always get what what we want most (if you disagree, read verse 4 again). Who on earth would want to hold onto destructive anger when they could have life giving peace and fulfillment? I for one would rather feel satisfied than stumped. And yet I still forget. I think we all do.
So It is possible to have a righteous anger, when we want exactly what God wants and submit our emotions to the Lord to seek holy counsel on how these emotions might serve us. As reflected in the words of Pastor Cymbala, the core emotion can act as an internal barometer that alerts us to something we should address. Sometimes it alerts us to an external matter that truly needs our attention, a justice worth fighting for. Perhaps more often it points us to something in our own spirit that needs improvement or healing. Because we serve a loving, redemptive God, the great recycler can work even these seemingly negative feelings to the Lord's glory and our good.