From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 13 – Some common errors and areas of confusion about what forgiveness is and how, and why, we are to do it
We have seen above how so many important biblical words and concepts are seriously misunderstood. We shall now look at two more, i.e. ‘anger’ and ‘rage’. The first, anger, is not necessarily sinful. Indeed, it can be entirely justified and even righteous, depending on the circumstances and the way inwhichthe anger is handled and expressed:
26Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not give the devil an opportunity.Ephesians 4:26-27 (NASB)
The classic example in the Scriptures of righteous anger, or righteous indignation, is the occasion when Jesus drove the corrupt and irreverent money changers out of the Temple:
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he taught, and said to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.Mark 11:15-18 (RSV)
What Jesus did on that occasion was obviously not sinful. That has to be the case, because He never sinned in any way at all. The anger He showed was righteous. Those men were dishonouring God. Moreover, they were doing so in the Temple, of which Jesus was the rightful Lord. So, He had every right to throw them out and He was not over-stepping the mark or exceeding His proper authority.
Moreover, the way in which He manifested His anger was equally righteous. That is He never lost His self-control. Everything He did to the money changers was what He intended to do. That is He did not “lose His temper” or “go too far” or “lash out” or say things which he later regretted.
That is the essential difference between anger and rage. Anger is an emotion which is potentially righteous. It is capable of being felt by our ‘new man’ or ‘spirit’ or ‘new nature’. (See Book Seven for a fuller explanation of these terms.) Our new man or human spirit, which is what we are meant to operate in, and through, is capable of feeling anger and of expressing it and acting upon it.
So, whilst ever we continue to operate solely in or through our new man/spirit we will do all of this in a righteous, godly, sinless manner. That’s because our new man, i.e. our human spirit which is brought back to life when we are born again, is capable of feeling anger, but is incapable of sin.
However, if we are, instead, operating in, or through, our ‘old man’ or ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ or ‘Adamic nature’ (see Book Seven) then we will act sinfully and express or manifest our anger in a sinful or ‘carnal’ way. A person who is acting in that way will do the following kinds of things:
a) raise their voice, or even shout
b) lose their temper, i.e. lose their self-control
cc) lash out in words, or even physically
d) say hurtful, wounding, insulting things which they may well regret later
e) seek to get even with, or hit back at, the other person, i.e. as opposed to dealing firmly, but calmly, with the situation and simply doing what is appropriate and necessary, but no more
Perhaps it will assist if we look at some practical examples from my own past experience. If you are a police officer, as I was, and are dealing with an offender who has done something very wrong, you might feel a sense of anger at their conduct and its consequences. However, you must never allow that to affect the way you do your job. You must remain calm, measured and professional and not allow your interrogation of that prisoner to become intemperate.
Neither can you ever let your judgment become clouded by your feelings. Likewise, if you are a manager or proprietor dealing with a particularly nasty episode of misconduct, bullying or theft on the part of an employee, you could feel anger (in your spirit) but you must conduct the investigation and/or disciplinary hearing(s) with complete self-control at all times.
I am not discussing hypothetical or theoretical situations here. I have had to do both of the above things on many occasions. I am not saying that I always achieved it, but what I was aiming for was to do my job, get to the truth, and then take whatever action was justified by the facts. That could include prosecuting an offender, or sacking an employee, or perhaps giving a lesser sanction such as a warning, or suspending the person, pending further enquiries etc.
In such situations it is absolutely essential that you maintain complete self-control throughout. I actually found that it helped if I deliberately lowered my voice and spoke more quietly and slowly than I would usually do. Then, if you decide to charge the person and recommend prosecution, or if you decide to sack them, you are making those decisions while acting in, or through, your spirit, with the help of the Holy Spirit, rather than through your old man or flesh.
The same considerations apply in all sorts of other situations, not just the ones described above. So, for example, you might need to take a faulty item back to a shop, or speak to a motorist who parks across your driveway, blocking your access. If so, your duty is to handle that situation with self-control, in and through your spirit, not your flesh.
You must also avoid any intemperate speech or conduct. Accordingly, we can, and sometimes must, handle situations which require us to make decisions about another person, or to confront them about their behaviour, but at the same time we can and must also:
a) forgive them, in the narrow sense of not purporting to take Jesus’ proper place as their ultimate Judge
b) where appropriate, show mercy and grace to them, to the extent that it is right to do so
c) possibly even go further than that and seek to make peace with them, be reconciled, resume trust and friendship etc, where those things are feasible and appropriate
d) conduct ourselves temperately and with self-control, recognizing our own feelings, and even feeling anger where that is legitimate, but without any form of rage, railing or lashing out