Compassionate Anger

Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ “The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. -Matthew 21:12-14

I don’t think I need to go into detail about how destructive anger can be. Even in the story of Jesus cleansing the temple, we see Jesus’ anger manifesting in a physical way that would seem violent. But take a closer look at the result. Those who needed the touch of God the most were not scared away from Jesus. Rather, they were emboldened to come to Jesus! And there, they found healing in the hands of Jesus. The same hands, mind you, that had just made a whip out of cords, overturned tables, and chased out all who were taking advantage of those who were coming to genuinely worship God.

This is what I mean by compassionate anger. Jesus channeled his anger in such a way that he created space for the humble to find the grace they needed to transform their lives. Jesus was not just dealing with injustice. He was restoring justice.

Our problem is that our anger is often misplaced, misdirected, misused, and missing its purpose. We sin in our anger and stay in our anger longer than we ought. This is the kind of anger and use of anger Scripture calls us to avoid and put off. Think of Moses killing an Egyptian man in his anger and trying to cover it up (Exodus 2:11-15). Or later in his life, Moses, frustrated with the Israelite’s stubbornness, lashes out in his anger inappropriately, which cost him the opportunity to enter the promised land (Exodus 20:10-12).

But anger itself is not the problem. Sometimes it is the solution. And even God gets angry. In my book Hope Rising, I share the following about anger:

“The fact is many things in the world are not as they should be, and that should make us angry! We need to be angry about the things that make God angry. While the anger of God has fallen out of favor in many circles and we prefer to focus on God’s grace, I believe that it’s precisely God’s anger that makes him a God of love. If God didn’t get angry about injustice, would he be good and righteous? Likewise, if injustice and unrighteousness do not bother us enough to lead to action, how can we say we are motivated by God’s love, which does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). Another straightforward verse about righteousness is found in Hebrews 1:9, which quotes the Old Testament and refers to Jesus: You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy…

Anger is sometimes necessary, but only when correctly channeled. Most action that has inspired real change has arisen from initial feelings of anger and passion. Think about William Wilberforce when it came to the slave trade. Think about Mahātmā Gandhi fighting nonviolently for independence in India. Think about civil rights leaders in the United States protesting segregation and racism. Anger over current reality compelled these leaders to fight for change in the future.

The real challenge is combining anger with meaningful action, compassion with courage. Some people have anger but no action other than perhaps posting things all day long on social media. While there is a place for information and awareness, we live in a culture saturated with information but little meaningful action. Others have sympathy for others but no passion to act on those sentiments. Yet, genuine compassion always results in prayer and action, perhaps best modeled in recent times by people such as Mother Teresa.

Take a look at this passage from the Gospel of Matthew: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Matthew 9:36-38) Likewise, when Jesus saw the crowds, he was motivated to raise the awareness level of his disciples, called them to pray, and then he empowered them to personally go (Matthew 10).” (Excerpt from Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World, pg.135-137).

So, what makes you angry enough these days to act in a compassionate way towards those on the receiving end of injustice or abuse? How can you channel your anger in ways that produce meaningful change and bring about healing? Don’t waste your anger or misuse it. Channel it in a way that creates space for God’s grace in others’ lives.

To read more, check out my book Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World.

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