In my book Unfashionable I have a chapter on the need for the church to exhibit more anger. Of course, the anger I describe is not self-centered anger, but God-centered anger.
God-centered anger is when you get angry because God has been dishonored and his ways have been maligned. Self-centered anger is when you're angry because you have been dishonored or your ways have been maligned.
In my book I highlight Mark 3:1-5 which provides us with a memorable example of God-centered anger.
One day Jesus "entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand." Meanwhile the Pharisees in the crowd "watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him." Jesus didn't hold back: "He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.' And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?' But they were silent."
Notice carefully what comes next: "And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.' He stretched it out, and his hand was restored."
Jesus, the God-man, was angry. And then we read immediately that he was also grieved, seeing the hardness of the Pharisees' hearts.
Here is a super-important characteristic of God's anger that we need to understand: God's anger is a grieving anger. It grieves because it sees the devastation that sin has on human life.
Jesus was angry because God's ways were being maligned and God was being dishonored by these legalistic Pharisees. But his anger was fueled by grief—he saw sin's deadening effects in the lives of these hardened Pharisees. It was as if he asked them, "Why do you continue like this? Don't you see that you were created and designed for so much more than this?" It grieved him to see that these Pharisees, because of their sin, were only shadows of what God originally intended for them to be. They had been made to live for so much more.
God is grievingly angry when our sin causes us to become less and less of what he created us to be, because we were fearfully and wonderfully made to live for so much more.
Our anger should be a grieving anger as well. When we see immorality and injustice, our anger should be stoked because of the devastating effects these things have on human life and community.
Grieving anger is far different from the kind of anger commonly associated with Christians. Lots of people think of Christians as embittered, angry people. They view Christians as being frustrated by our culture because things just aren't going our way—our conservative political agenda is being thwarted.
Years ago I was one of five thousand people listening to a panel discussion at a Christian conference. An editor of a conservative political-theological magazine was expressing his frustration with many of the political left-wingers, and doing so in an unnecessarily sarcastic and condescending way. When he finished, John Piper (another speaker on the panel) turned to him, and with utmost seriousness and precision, he said, "For a long time I have appreciated your ministry. You are an astute observer of our culture. I read your magazine every month. It's always insightful. But there's one thing missing from your ministry."
The editor looked at Dr. Piper and asked what it was.
"Tears," Piper replied.
The world so often senses our anger—but do they ever sense our grief? They think we're angry simply because we're not getting our way, but I'm afraid they don't feel our sorrow over sin's negative, dehumanizing effects. We fail to communicate our anger in a way that says, "You were made for so much more than this." They assume our anger is only because we're not getting what we want. No wonder they tune us out.
When we see the restlessness and wreckage in people's lives because they're not in relationship with God and they're living sin-filled lives, it should stoke our anger—an anger that arises because we love them and we grieve to see them living for something so destructive when God created them to live for something beautiful and satisfying.
Self-centered anger is not a grieving, love-fueled anger; that's what God-centered anger is. So does your anger rage because your love for God and your love for others is radical? When people see us hating what God hates because our love for God and people is real and deep, they may be more open to hear what we have to say.