A few days after the murder of George Floyd, she said to me, “I feel like there’s this war within me. On the one hand, as a Christian woman, I want to love and forgive. On the other hand, I’m so angry right now. I have this battle raging inside of me.” Love versus anger. These words capture well the struggle many feel in this moment and moments like these.
Anger at the sight of injustice is a discipleship issue. I want to make three fairly straightforward statements and then explore each one further below.
- If you’re a follower of Jesus and you’re not angry in these days, something is wrong.
- If you’re a follower of Jesus and you are angry, something might not be wrong.
- If you’re a follower of Jesus and you are angry but it’s coming out sideways, there’s hope.
Let’s flesh each of these out.
First, if you’re not angry at all forms of racial injustice (systemic and otherwise), there is something wrong. If you’re not angry at the senseless murder of another black person, something is wrong with your heart. The Bible reveals a God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who is angry at all forms of injustice.
When a 9-minute video of power abused confronts us, something of a righteous fury should arise. We should also be indignant at the more subtle forms of systemic injustice that function like a relentless undertow just beneath the surface pulling us all down. To not have righteous anger in a moment like this suggests we have not actually had our hearts shaped in the way of Jesus.
Yet, anger and wrath make us uneasy. The idea of God’s wrath makes us uneasy. This discomfort has often times caused us to assume a battle in the Godhead. We believe we’re forced to choose between the angry God of the Old Testament and the polite, kind, forgiving, and loving fella we know as Jesus in the New Testament. I share more about this ill-advised division in a moment. Righteous anger is a proper response to injustice.
In his book, Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf writes: “A non-indignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence.” In Free of Charge, he writes similarly:
I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. Then exactly why is God wrathful against some of them? My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was the casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3 million were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed. My people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.
…Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love, God is wrathful because God is love.
We should take heed of these words. God is not okay with injustice, racism, or evil in any form. He moves against these principalities and powers with righteous anger. If you’re not angry in this moment, something is wrong.
This leads us to the second statement above. If you’re angry but feel uncomfortable with your anger or feel guilty about your anger, this may emerge from a misunderstanding of God’s love. It might be that we need a clearer picture of God’s character in this moment, not guilt for the way we’re feeling.
Again, I suggest that much of our discomfort with our own anger comes from an uneasiness with God’s anger, which actually flows from a distorted picture of divine love. God’s character is holy love. The three persons of the Trinity are – always have been, and always will be – of one essence. The love of the Father is the same love of the Son and Holy Spirit. The holiness of Jesus is the holiness of the Father. The justice at the heart of Jesus’ ministry and that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the justice of the Father. There’s no division.
Although it has become passé, in classic theology there is a doctrine known as divine simplicity. In a nutshell, divine simplicity means this: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not composed of part or pieces. He’s not loving here and angry over there. As theologian Tom McCall puts this idea in his book, Forsaken, “God’s wrath is not the product of his holiness while his mercy is the expression of his love…for within the simplicity of the divine life, holiness and love cohere with one another.”
What we need in this moment is a “simple” God in not so simple times. We desperately need to understand that God is not made up of parts – anger here and love over there. His love and anger against injustice come from the same well of his character. In God, there is no battle between love and righteous anger.
Rather than being uncomfortable or guilt-ridden with the righteous anger we’re feeling right now, it may be that our righteous anger is a sign that God has been shaping in our heart, soul, and mind through his holy love. Maybe – just maybe – the anger that you feel in this moment isn’t something to be ashamed of but thankful for, part of your becoming more like Jesus. Understanding God’s holy love perhaps could actually give us permission to rethink righteous anger at injustice.
The moment I say this, though, it is important to pause and say the obvious – not all anger is righteous anger. We are not God and we need to guard our hearts. But the fundamental hope of the good news is that God, through what Jesus has done, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, can indeed share his character (his holy love) with us.
Again, we’ll need to guard our hearts here. As we read in Ephesians 4:26-27 “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” I know about guarding my heart in anger from personal experience. There’s a difference between righteous and unrighteous anger with my kids. When I’m angry at them, I know that I’m responding with holy love when my anger stops them, redirects them, and builds them up. On the other hand, when my anger comes out sideways, it all too easily tears them down.
If our anger in this moment is not filled with holy love, if it’s uncontrolled and unhinged, I first want to say that it is deeply understandable. It’s natural. But this is also why we need a supernatural work in our hearts where God shares himself with us in such a way that our unrighteous anger can be transformed and redirected.
When our anger lacks love, it simply means we need a fresh filling of God’s holy love. We need to be willing to pause, do some honest self-examination, repent when necessary, be filled anew with God’s holy love, and be reoriented toward something better and more life-giving.
Again, let me say that in this moment unrighteous anger is entirely understandable. It’s natural. But it tears down. When our anger goes sideways, it eats away the insides of us. In these moments, it’s necessary to allow God to fill us with supernatural grace in order to take captive, recalibrate, and redirect our anger toward hopeful change. Holy love expressed in righteous anger will bear fruit in the kingdom and enable us to build; unrighteous anger will eat away at us and tear down.
Let me close with a few thoughts.
- If we’re not angry at yet another story of injustice, something is wrong. If you find yourself changing the subject or looking away, stop now and pray. Ask God to fill you with his holy love and give you a passionate, holy indignation. Hear those who are hurting and then stand with them.
- If you’re experiencing anger and it feels like there’s a battle within, stop andexamine what you’re experiencing. Is the anger you’re feeling infused with love that so desires to see change and make a change for the better? If so, take heart, God may in fact be sharing his character with you and shaping your heart to be more like him in this moment.
- If you’re experiencing anger and it’s coming out sideways, pause. It’s entirely understandable to feel this way. Remember, God’s gentle presence is meeting you in these places and offering to share his holy love with you. This is a supernatural transaction and He will flood you in these days to reshape an unrighteous anger with his holy love.
Anger is a discipleship issue. Some of us need righteous anger. Some of us need permission to be angry and not feel guilty about it. Others need grace to infuse our anger with holy love.