A pastor friend of mine recently observed that there is a lot of anger in America. Many Americans are deeply aggrieved by many issues, and their anger is palpable in current political discourse. I couldn’t catalogue all the grievances in a single article, but I can identify their root cause: sin.
When someone sins against me or someone I care about, that sin arouses my zeal for justice. If that zeal isn’t quickly satisfied, I get angry. Yes, I’m aware of Paul’s admonitions at the bottom of Romans Chapter 12 (e.g., “leave it to the wrath of God” (v. 19)) and of how God has appointed governing authorities to bear the sword on my behalf (Rom 13:4-5). However, God doesn’t work on my timetable nor does He weigh the scales of justice in accordance with my wishes. So, where can that leave me? Angry and in unbelief.
I’ve experienced my share of time absorbed by anger. Anger is debilitating, especially at night. Have you ever lay awake at night angry, dwelling on something or someone who has hurt you? Replaying grievances in your mind, how things might have played out differently, if…? Imagining revenge or justice on the offender? I’ve been there. My reward was a lot of missed sleep and self-inflicted separation from God.
Anger is a curse of the Law
Anger returns me to the curse of life under the Law, from which Christ died to set me free. In my unbelief, I reason that if God won’t fix the injustices which are vexing me, then I will judge them myself. I will deputize myself as God’s under-judge and vent my judgment in anger. I will usurp God’s role as judge and the role of the governing authorities who God has placed over me, because He or they are not getting the job done. Unchecked anger can lead to full blown rebellion against God.
I can read God’s Word about anger: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Eph 4:31) God’s Law is very good at telling me what I ought to do, and pointing out where I am failing to obey Him. The Law itself is spiritual, but I am flesh (Rom 7:14). As a result, the Law is the power of sin (1 Cor 15:56). Reading or memorizing more Law verses about anger will not help me.
Eventually I found freedom from anger in the Gospel. Freedom from anger is the fruit of freedom in Christ, a topic I wrote about in a prior article.
All sins committed by and against other people ultimately are sins committed against God.
God is not disinterested or aloof from injustice. Our sins against one another are sins against God. David illustrates this principle in his Psalm written after being confronted by Nathan for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah:
“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.” (Ps 51:4-5)
All sins committed by and against one another are going to be dealt with by God, one way or another, temporally and/or eternally.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Jesus took away (i.e., took up on the cross) all the sins ever committed by every human being. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
Knowing that all sins, even the ones committed against me, are ultimately committed against God and that Jesus suffered and died for all of them, frees me from having to bear them myself. My indignation is no match for God’s, and my suffering does not compare with the suffering of Jesus for the very same sins. Jesus freed me from both the guilt and shame of my own sins and from bearing the sins of others committed against me.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)
Depending on the nature of the transgression and whether or not the offender is repentant, it is not always possible or advisable to attempt reconciliation with an offender. This is not an article about the complex (and important) topic of reconciliation. My sole motivation here is to shed light on the problem of anger and reflect on how the Gospel has helped me address anger in my life. According to Mark 11:25, if someone sins against us, we can forgive the sin directly to God. This may be all that is possible or advisable under the circumstances. However, this prayer is effective to release that sin into God’s hands for ultimate resolution and frees us from bearing it.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:43-45a)
All Christians share the vocation of a royal priesthood to the world, including unbelievers and our enemies. Unbelievers do not have access to God and are completely lost and children of wrath. But Christians, on the other hand, have access to God, as Father, and can call on Him in Christ’s name. Therefore, Christians intercede with God for their enemies, praying that God would be merciful to them, bless them with their daily needs, bring them to repentance, and save them through the power of the Gospel.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration of Christian intercession for his enemies was Stephen’s prayer made during his martyrdom: “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:60)
Freedom through Prayer
The Lord’s Prayer includes this petition: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) Jesus gave us this petition, so that we can pray to our Father for our fidelity to His will, but also against the many violations of His will that we see around us. For example, if someone attempts to redefine God’s created order regarding sex or marriage, Christians pray for God’s will to prevail. Similarly, if government fails to protect the citizens entrusted to it, Christians pray for God to enlighten our leaders, so His will for good government will prevail. By committing these matters into God’s care through prayer, trusting that He hears our prayers and is sovereign over His creation, we are set free to serve in our vocations in God’s grace free from anger.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:20-21)