Anger Sin Wrath Righteous Pride

Discerning Righteous Anger from Sinful Wrath

What distinguishes righteous anger from sinful wrath? The New Testament accounts of Jesus Christ reveal the answer. In the Scriptures, Jesus only expresses anger in two instances:

  1. His indignation towards the religious leaders who showed no compassion for the man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6).
  2. His outrage at the money changers for defiling the temple of God (Matthew 21:12-13).

Based on these examples, we can identify two leading causes of Christ’s justifiable rage:

  1. A lack of empathy for those suffering and less fortunate.
  2. Disrespecting God and diverting attention from authentically worshipping Him.

By contrast, Jesus never showed anger when:

  • He received disdain.
  • His instructions were disobeyed.
  • He was disregarded or forgotten.
  • He received harsh treatment.
  • People were rude to him.
  • There were false accusations leveled against Him.
  • He was spat upon and violently abused.
  • He endured execution by crucifixion.

His fury was not self-serving; instead, it was a response to defend the honor of God and others in need. This is what justifiable rage is all about.

Saint John Climacus famously remarked, “Do not be quickly moved to anger, for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 8). This quote suggests that while righteous anger benefits others and God’s glory, personal anger frequently promotes our pride.

Typically, we get this backward.  We become furious when we perceive that someone has wronged us. But when God is disregarded or when there is a lack of empathy for the poor, we tend to remain unaffected. This is the exact opposite of Jesus’ example. As Christ’s disciples, we must imitate Him by putting aside our egos and self-serving desires in favor of compassion and love for God and others.

Saint Isaac the Syrian offers more wisdom: “If you are praised, be quiet. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear, and what energy!” (Homily 81)

This inspiring quote is a compelling reminder to always act humbly and with self-control while resisting the urge to work in our best interests. By doing this, we create space for the manifestation of divine energy that stifles wicked rage and stokes righteous anger.

Typically, we get anger backward. We become furious when we perceive that someone has wronged us. But when God is disregarded or when there is a lack of empathy for the less fortunate, we tend to remain unaffected. This is the exact opposite of Jesus' example.

One crucial thing we must remember when distinguishing between sinful outrage and righteous anger is that our goal is to be like Christ. In Philippians 2:1–11, Saint Paul urges us to adopt Christ’s perspective:

“Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death —even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth— and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

These verses provide the perfect picture of humility and selfless love. Despite His divine status, Christ endured severe personal assault without taking revenge, directing His wrath only against injustice, callousness, and disobedience to God.

We need to be aware of what makes us angry as we go about our daily lives and ensure that our anger aligns with the righteous outrage that Christ exhibited. Although the path may be difficult, the spiritual benefits outweigh the difficulties. By emulating Christ’s example, we grow spiritually and contribute to a more just, compassionate, and God-honoring world. It is very apparent what we are called to do: to think and act as Christ does, showing His love, humility, and righteous rage in everything we do.

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