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Intersection of Life and Faith

Anger Can Sometimes Be Good

  • 2001 14 Nov
Anger Can Sometimes Be Good
From the perspective of faith, the trivial and hurtful anger that even the most committed Christians sometimes feel and express serves little, if any, useful purpose. One kind of anger, however, exists for good reasons, and from it all our relationships can and often do change for the better. This kind of anger, righteous anger, is the central focus of everything that our Lord taught about feeling and expressing anger in the ways that God intends. As such, it is worthy both of our respect and our cultivation. ...

Anger that redeems

Becoming angry for the right reasons, or "for cause," has to do with reacting to the deprivation of something basic to our own or another's well-being and even survival. God does not intend for our reactions to such deprivations to become the primary focus of attention. Merely dwelling on the deprivations, and fanning our anger about them, will only plunge us into a perpetual state of resentful, hopeless protests against evils we delude ourselves into believing we can do nothing about. Rather, God intends for us to let our indignation provide the motivation and energy we need to persist in addressing the deprivations until we make some contribution to their alleviation. Like every other kind of anger, righteous anger cannot be worked through by "nursing" it for its own sake; it requires constructive action.

Between our recognition of a significant deprivation and our feeling righteous anger about it, there is also activated within us one or more strongly held convictions about what kinds of things should and should not happen to people in our world. For Christians, these convictions are likely to represent the heart of personal faith. The perceived incongruity between the deprivation before us and those convictions influences decisively how intense our righteous anger will be and how hard we will work to get at its source, whether in our own lives or in the lives of others. The more flagrant the contradiction between what we believe should be happening to people and what we see actually happening to them, the deeper our anger is likely to go, the longer it is likely to endure, and the more motivating it is likely to be of constructive action on our part.

The kinds of convictions that so clearly shape the feeling of righteous anger can be expressed in many different ways, as the following statements show:

The harassment that has been so much a part of this department has to stop.

I'm worthy of more attention that I'm getting from my supervisor.

No one deserves the kind of abuse that he has had to take from those parents.

While we take fertile land out of production, children are starving all around the world. Surely, Christians have a responsibility to do something about this situation.

If we really mean what we say about equal opportunity, we are going to have to do more about leveling the playing field for everyone from the start.

A small number of people at the top are getting richer, while a large number of people at the bottom are getting poorer. This can in no way be fair.

Abortion as a means of contraception is no more justified than war is an instrument of national policy.

How can we live with ourselves when we don't get the vaccines that people need to them - whether or not their countries can pay for them?

How long are people going to keep on killing each other in the name of religion?

We deserve better than to have our homes broken into time and time again.

Not a list of normative beliefs that should be accepted unquestioningly by everyone, these statements illustrate the kinds of convictions that do influence peoples' becoming deeply angry about significant deprivations that they strongly believe no one ought to suffer. Some of the statements are patently controversial. Together, however, they remind us that each of us has a God-given right to think and believe what makes sense to us as individuals. For the sake of the communities of faith that God intends for us, though, we also have a obligation to subject even our most cherished personal convictions to continuing examination. The best way to do this is through discussion with others, who often see better than we do whether a particular conviction makes good sense or not.

Excerpted by permission from Angry People in the Pews: Managing Anger in the Church, copyright 2001 by Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pa., www.judsonpress.com, 1-800-4-JUDSON. All rights reserved.

Leroy Howe is an ordained United Methodist minister, and the author of several other books plus more than 175 articles and reviews. He served as professor of pastoral theology at Southern Methodist University for 21 years.

When have you been angry about something for a good cause? How did you express that righteous anger, and what results did you see from directing your energy toward that cause? When someone else has expressed righteous anger to you, did it motivate or offend you, and why? Visit Live It's forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.