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By Stephen Green
First Published in Christian Voice May 2008
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: (Eph. 4:26)
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; (Titus 1:7)
God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Ps. 7:11)
And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. (Joel 3:3)
Earlier this month, a woman wrote to me to say that the Christian Voice newsletter seems 'angry' from time to time.
So I started thinking, 'that's bad, being angry, we'll have to stop appearing to be angry.' And then it occurred to me that being angry with injustice and corruption might be the correct response after all. So here is the challenge: if we see things in
today as God sees them, should we or should we not be angry?
I remember having a brief exchange of emails with a homosexual a while ago, in which he said that his anger with me over what I had said as quoted on the Christian Voice website was 'righteous anger'. I believe we should all agree that there is such a thing, even though there is no such expression in the Bible. Some would say it should be used sparingly, and others would say that 'righteous anger' is limited to being angry at the things which anger God. In other words, if you see things exactly as God sees them, that is, see them with the mind of God, then you can be angry at the things God is angry at. That is righteous anger. His wasn't.
The Apostle Paul's famous dictum teaches us that we can be angry, but that it should not take us over. Anyone who is angry with his brother should deal with it that day, before nightfall. Someone I know thought that not letting the sun go down on it meant keeping the anger stoked up and alive, but it means the opposite. It is like our Lord's teaching at Matt 5:23-24; we should deal with things separating us in fellowship from others as soon as we remember them. We are told to clear up the quarrels that day.
The word to Titus warns against being 'soon angry'. The Greek means 'irascible', that is, irritable or cantankerous. ‘Irascible’ is not quite the same thing as anger. In Proverbs there are several warnings about being angry too soon, or without proper reason, among them: ‘Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm’ (Pro 3:30) and ‘Go not forth hastily to strive’ (Pro 25:8). But the same book also says: ‘Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.’ (Pro 31:9)
So what of the character of God? We read in 1 John that God is love and that everyone who loves is of God. How does this reconcile itself with the words of the Psalmist, who says that God 'is angry' every day? I know which verse I am more comfortable with, and so would most of the Church be. Sadly, most of the church would actually be more comfortable with a God of love who is never angry at all.
Jim Callaghan used to tell a story of when he was negotiating with Ian Paisley in
at one time. Why could the people not get on, asked Callaghan; after all, we are all the children of God. 'Not so', replied Dr Paisley, 'We are the children of wrath!' That is from Eph 2:3, and Eph 5:6 develops the concept, warning that the wrath of God is coming upon 'the children of disobedience'. It is good to remember from time to time that we are seeking to save souls from the wrath of God.
But I believe it is impossible to separate the love of God from the anger of God. I believe love of God is poured out both in His blessings and in His anger. Such a view is highly consistent with Scripture. God was angry at times with Moses, then with the whole of
, and He was angry with Jonah. It is written: 'For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth' (Prov 3:12). So as no-one can complain that is the 'Old Testament', that very verse is quoted in Hebrews: 'For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.' (Heb 12:6)
The book of James exhorts us to take the prophets for an example 'of suffering affliction and of patience.' But as the same verse says they 'have spoken in the name of the Lord,' then I believe we can also take them as an example of speaking in the name of the Lord. They only suffered affliction because they were faithful in taking the word of the Lord to the people and their rulers, and they took that word patiently and resolutely, not allowing anything to stop them.
And sometimes those prophets were angry, justifiably and righteously so, and they were angry because of their burden for a nation and its people, their love of God and their love for their neighbour. Mere words in a prophecy do not always convey the human emotion with which they were uttered, but when Joel speaks of invaders giving 'a boy for an harlot', and of selling 'a girl for wine, that they might drink', he seems to be to be almost beside himself with rage.
Did Jeremiah say and write what he did in anger or in sorrow?
Jer. 32:35 And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.
It is worth remembering as Parliament begins to debate human embryology and abortion that the evil and the injustice of killing their own children was the summit of the wickedness of
. This, and all the other national sins against His righteous laws made God angry enough to throw His own people out of the promised land and into the hand of the Babylonians.
We find promises of future restoration in Jeremiah, but we find none of the modern-day quest for loads of non-judgmental love in his denunciations of
and their sins. It is of course possible to argue that the Hebrew way is to be very black or white in making a point. It is either all good, or all bad. No doubt some of what the Shammai Pharisees did was good, but it did not stop the Lord Jesus pronouncing 'woe' on them. We have to wait until the letters to the churches of Revelation to find good things and bad things mixed together in a critical analysis from the mind of God.
The Prophet Isaiah also seems quite angry when he speaks woe to
because of their disobedience to God's laws. Like the Lord Jesus, he doesn't find much that is nice to say to them:
Isa. 3:11 Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him.
14 The LORD will enter into judgment with the ancients of his people, and the princes thereof: for ye have eaten up the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord GOD of hosts.
16 Moreover the LORD saith, Because the daughters of
are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet:
17 Therefore the LORD will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of
, and the LORD will discover their secret parts.
Isa. 5:8 Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!
11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!
18 Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope:
20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!
22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink:
23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
Our law does that all the time today. Abortion certainly takes away the righteousness of the righteous, or of the innocent, along with his life, but in countless other ways today injustice is done and good is called evil and evil is called good, those in power grind the faces of the poor and the law takes away the righteousness of the righteous. While writing this, I saw the case of Lilian Lidelle, being forced as a council registrar to conduct the sham and wickedness of homosexual civil partnerships against her Christian beliefs. That is exactly the sort of thing Isaiah was writing about 2,700 years ago. If it made him angry then, why should it not make us angry today? Or to put it another way, if such injustice fails to make us angry, what is wrong with us? Where is our love for God, our knowledge of His word, our love for our nation and our Christian compassion for our sister?
We know that the evils of family breakdown, crime, drink, drugs, gambling, debt and depravity destroy the lives of the poorest sections of society first, just as Isaiah said. Why are we not more angry about government grinding the faces of the poor? All the prophets bring the same sort of message in the same sort of way. Habbakuk complained that the wicked were surrounding the righteous and that all he could see was iniquity, spoiling and violence. Micah declared woe on those who frame evil laws, the civil servants and politicians of his day:
Micah 2:1 Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! when the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand.
2 And they covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away: so they oppress a man and his house, even a man and his heritage.
3 Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks; neither shall ye go haughtily: for this time is evil.
Micah could be writing for our day. And he sounds angry. And God sounds angry about it. And God changeth not. So if God is angry with the transgression of His holy laws in the
today, perhaps we should be getting angry about that too.