Rage, Righteousness, the Apostle and the Delphic Oracle
Righteous anger is essential. I’d say there is nothing like enough of it about. But at the same time, I’d say there is far too much anger generally about. There is an important distinction. Trying to establish where it lies is, of course, the trick. You see, far too often, our anger says much more about our own state of mind than any objective problem or reality (whether it be at the macro political level or the micro domestic level).
Was reading a children’s book about anger the other day. Early on, the writers included a very interesting scenario to provoke some soul-searching.
Let me tell you a story. let’s pretend you were walking down the hall and somebody knocked all your books out of hands. How would you feel? You’d start singing “Joy to the World”, right? No, seriously, you’d probably be angry, right?
But when you turn around to see who hit your books you realise it was a blind student who accidentally bumped into you. Now how would you feel? Still angry? Probably not.
Here’s the important part. You still got your books knocked out of your hands so things happening (such as dropping your books) can’t make you angry. So it must be something else. That “something else” is your THOUGHTS. Your thoughts, beliefs and ideas are what make you angry… Not your parents or teachers or family. (Hot Stuff to Help Kids Chill Out, by Jerry Wilde, 1997, p21)
Interesting, huh? When Paul wrote Ephesians he drew on Psalm 4:4 to make a crucial point:
“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 (Eph 4:26-27)
He doesn’t say don’t be angry. Anger is not wrong. As the prophets prove, it’s a necessary, humane even, response to wrongdoing and injustice. But he is keenly aware of anger’s dangers: a fast-track to sin and spiritual oppression. How much of our indignation against the goings on in recent theological debates or church disputes, for example, reveals more about our own unresolved concerns than the issues themselves? Probably much more than we care to admit.
So here’s the paradoxical injunction: don’t allow so-called ‘righteous’ anger be a justification for our own sinfulness; likewise don’t allow nervousness of our own motivations be an excuse for not expressing anger when it genuinely is righteous (and I suspect we’re on surer ground when it concerns issues more to do with others’ predicaments than our own). Not easy.
But the ancient Delphic Greeks had it so right: It all comes down to knowing yourself.