There IS Such a Thing as Righteous Anger?

by Andy Wood on July 14, 2012

in Five LV Laws, Insight, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Freedom, Protecting Your Investment, Since You Asked

Q – Can you please define righteous anger as opposed to sinful anger? How do I handle it?

What?  There’s a such thing as righteous anger?


In my head and my Bible, I knew better.  But for years emotionally I dismissed all anger as inherently sinful.  After all, when it’s described with words like “bitterness,” “wrath,” “malice,” “evil speaking” and the like, where’s the “righteous” in that?

I also spent many years feeling guilty for feeling or acting angry.  Know why?  Because I was guilty.

I learned a long time ago that when somebody spews, “I have a right to be angry,” they don’t know much about rights – which Christ-followers surrender completely at the point of salvation.  And there’s little chance that they’re describing righteous anger, either.

By the way, there are four kinds of mad, and you’ll tend to be one or two of them and, as opposites attract, will probably marry one of the others.  Check that out here.

Be Angry and WHAT?

In spite of the fact that anger is like a loaded weapon and bitterness is like a poison that you drink and hope the other guy dies, we do have this itty bitty little verse in the Bible:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26, ESV).

If I’m reading that right, I’m being commanded to get angry about some things.

Am I reading that right?

So if the question asks, “Is anger always sinful?” the answer is no.  In fact, there are times when it’s sinful not to be angry.  If there are things that make God angry, don’t you think they should make you angry as well?  Imagine standing before the God of the Universe and hearing Him say, “There were some things you just weren’t angry enough about.”

So what’s the difference?

It is the nature of any kind of anger to try and justify itself.  So how do we keep from being fooled?  What’s the difference between righteous indignation and sinful anger?

1.  A difference in motive.

Righteous anger is motivated by love for God or an injustice toward someone else.  Sinful anger is always motivated by self-service.  The original purpose for your capacity to get angry is to right a wrong or correct an injustice.  If your focus is on getting your way or getting even, that ain’t righteous.  But if your rage is more like outrage because of the pain or injustice inflicted by others, carry on!

2.  A difference in focus.

Righteous anger attacks problems.  Sinful anger attacks people.  Sinful anger has a lot of traveling companions, like judging, jealousy, malice (desire to hurt), or arrogance.  Righteous anger can be just as forceful, but is aimed at the problems themselves.  The reason we feel the anger is to prompt us to get up and actually do something about the problems rather than just talk them to death.

3.  A difference in outcome.

Righteous anger seeks to correct.  Sinful anger seeks to punish.  Okay, so you lay on the car horn for 15 seconds because the fool pulled out in front of you and made you spill coffee in your lap.  Awesome.  You sure showed him.  And gave him his punishment to boot.  Speaking of boot… oh, never mind.

Righteous anger looks to make problems or potential problems better.  How can we correct this?  How can we point out someone else’s offenses and still watch the sun go down anger-free?  How can we offer to be part of the solution?

4.  A different “governor.”

Righteous anger is governed by love.  Sinful anger is governed by pride.  Most all self-righteous anger is pride driven.  Somebody messed with your sense of how the world should treat you and by golly, you’re gonna show them.  So you pout or shout until everybody in your universe is paying attention.

Righteous anger is driven by love, and that may be a hard mix for you to understand.  How can you be loving and angry at the same time.   Let me illustrate.  Suppose one of my very young grandchildren is playing close to the sidewalk in my front yard and somebody comes barreling down the street at a ridiculous speed in a car.  I may well throw whatever’s in my hand (unless I’m eating it, of course) at the car and yell, “Slow down!”  And I won’t say, “please.”  What drives the response is a protecting kind of love for my grandchildren, and that’s all.

5.  A different duration.

Righteous anger is short-lived.  Sinful anger remains. Back to the previous illustration.  If I stayed all bent out of shape and bitter at my neighbor for weeks because he was being thoughtless, that would be driven by something other than love.  Righteous anger seeks to correct, then just as quickly moves on toward reconciliation or peace.

One of the ugliest episodes in the Bible took place around the multiple sins of King David.  Following his adultery, murder and dishonesty, two men of God became very angry.  Ahithophel, who was one of David’s closest advisors, lived for the day he would see David dead.  (Read here to discover why.)  The other, a prophet named Nathan, was the man who exposed David as the fraud he was.  But he expressed his anger in a godly way.  He confronted David with the sin, he attacked the problem, he brought correction, and he expressed God’s forgiveness.  And Nathan never brought it up again. 

That’s anger.  And that’s righteous.

Martha Orlando July 14, 2012 at 8:07 am

You have perfectly defined the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger. Whenever I think of righteous anger, I see Jesus turning over the tables of merchants in the temple.
Thanks for a wonderful read today!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Family Feud

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