Presbyterians/Is righteous indignation a sin or a mark of spiritual maturity?
I am very confused. I just read a book by a Christian author, Brant Hansen, called "Unoffendable." The basic premise is that Christians have no need and more specifically, no right, to get angry or offended - in fact, that it is a form of sin whenever we get that way. While I sort of see what he's getting at and even (mostly) agree with him when it comes to trivial things like getting cut off in traffic and the like - I am not sure about those larger moral issues and conflicts with the world that sparks what I would term "righteous anger" or indignation.
Jesus got angry at the moneychangers without sinning. Can't we - no, shouldn't we - be angry at the injustice and wrongdoing going on all around us? If we aren't, isn't that a bad sign that we've monastically withdrawn ourselves from it? I keep thinking of Phinehas from the Old T. and Paul's blunt fieriness from the New T. Both were used by God to confront people's sinfulness. If we're not allowed to ever get angry or indignant how come they were commended instead of criticized for it?
Ironically, the book that proposes that being indignant is always a sin has bothered me and made me more indignant than I've been in quite awhile...LOL. So maybe it's on to something after all. If Hansen right, I stand pretty convicted.
Either way, I thought I'd get your take on this. I troll your answers regularly and your graciousness towards some questioners who have challenged the Christian faith in a way that would have sent me over the moon, made me think you were one person I needed to poll on this. So Pastor G, where is the balance between being a judgmental jerk of a Christian who's worn out by all the injustice and moral wrong, and a total pushover whose spiritual warfare looks more (to me) like sleepwalking through a messy, hurting, and spiritually impoverished world?
Much thanx for your insight!
This is a great question. Thanks.
Let me say first of all that I can't interact with the book as I've never read it, nor heard of it before your question.
A few things come to my mind, though. After many years in the ministry and more years as a Christian I've noted sometimes that people will claim to "take God's offense" when really they are prideful and over-sensitive. In other words, they become angry and claim to be "defending truth" when what they are really defending is their own pride and ego. Perhaps the author is dealing with that phenomenon.
I think that whenever someone "loses it" in anger they have crossed the line into sin (an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self control, Gal. 5:23).
But I think that you are certainly correct that not all anger is sin, and in fact I think that an often misunderstood passage commands us to be angry about certain things: "Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity." (Eph 4:26-27).
This text is often invoked to encourage married couples to kiss and make up and not go to bed angry at each other. That is a great practice, but it has nothing at all to do with this text.
The first part of this is a quote from Psalm 4:4 (specifically from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), "Be angry and do not sin." Two things are noteworthy. The first is that "be angry" is in the imperative mood - it is a command. We (you plural) are commanded to be angry. Following right on the heels of that imperative, though is another, "and do not sin." This should alert us to the fact that it easy for anger to slip into sin, and we are commanded not to let it do so. So while the passage indicates a certain danger to be guarded against (sinning by being angry), it also tells us that is is possible to be angry without sin, and in fact commands us to do so.
The first part of the saying is Paul's quote from Psalm 4:4. The second part is his explanation of it: "Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity." Although many people would tell you that "don't let the sun go down on your anger" means "stop being angry," it actually means just the opposite.
For the sun to go down on something means that it comes to an end. An example of this is found in Micah 3 where God excoriates the prophets for leading his people astray and says of them, "The sun will go down on the prophets, And the day will become dark over them" (Mic 3:6), that is, God will bring them to an end.
So to say "Do not let the sun go down on your anger" means "Do not stop being angry." Thus "Be angry" is further explained "Do not let the sun go down and your anger," or in other words, "Be angry and don't stop being angry."
Likewise, "and do not sin" is explained by "and do not give the devil and opportunity."
Be angry = do not let the sun go down on your anger
Do not sin = do not give the devil and opportunity.
There are all kinds of things God's people should be angry about, the killing of children in the womb coming readily to mind. Further, we should not let our anger about that grow cold. And yet, we are not to use that righteous anger as an excuse to sin, as sadly some have and have thus given the devil an opportunity.
The doctrine of the impassibility of his God is summed up in Westminster Confession of Faith 2.1 when it says that "God is . . . without passions." This simply means that he is not driven or controlled by his passions - he doesn't "lose it." We need to be conformed to his likeness, and Ephesians 4:26-27 indicate how. We should never "lose it" which is sin.
Nor should we be angry over trite things, which is really a way of excusing our over-sensitivity as being some kind of "godly virtue."
But to maintain that we should under no circumstances and in no way and for no cause ever be angry would be at odds with what the Scriptures actually say.