“Candy-Assed” Christians, Part II

Much to my surprise, yesterday’s blog, “‘Candy-Assed’ Christians,” became one of my most popular posts.  The thesis of that article was essentially this:

“To stand strong for one’s faith in Jesus Christ and push back against a culture that, in the words of Isaiah 5:20, ‘call[s] evil good and good evil’ is to be ‘divisive,’ ‘unloving,’ ‘bigoted,’ and ‘intolerant.’  This is because evangelicals have confused Christ’s command to love others with being likable, as if that were an attribute of God.  (It isn’t.)  As such, they endeavor to be, above all else, inoffensive and polite.  This doctrinal malpractice has given us a generation of men who are what Lewis called ‘men without chests.’”

We received—and continue to receive—an unusually high volume of email responses to the piece:

Bryan wrote:  “This is one of my favorite blogs from you yet.  ALL are riveting; this one goes straight to the core of the public debate. Excellent.”

From Andy:  “Very well put as always!!  This is my favorite post in a while.”

William said:  “Thank you for this right-on target, straight to the core message.”

Bruce wrote:  “This stands out as an eloquent yet accessible call to get off the couch and be doers of the word [instead of] claimants only, to paraphrase James.”

And Steve offered this:  “Awesome.  My favorite blog yet, and all have been excellent.  Thanks!”

But not everyone was enthusiastic.  Some Christians took exception to my thesis.  Radio host and author Brant Hansen of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, posted this on my Facebook page:

“Larry, you are awesome, but this is weak.  Why did you not mention the rest of Ephesians 4:26?  Why only half the verse?  Seriously:  Why?  It looks like you deliberately need to ignore it to justify a theology of anger.  We’re supposed to get rid of anger.  All of it.  Today.  It even says it a few verses later.  Why does James 1:20 say human anger does NOT yield the righteousness of God?  There is nowhere in the Bible where humans are told to harbor anger.  God’s anger is righteous—like Dallas Willard says, ‘He can be trusted with it, we can’t.’  Dietrich Bonhoeffer rejected the idea of ‘righteous anger’ for humans as well.  It’s simply not Biblical, no matter how many times we recite the first half of Ephesians 4:26 to try to justify it.  Forgiveness (which necessarily means surrendering our ‘right to anger’) is not ‘candy-assed.’  Sorry.  Anger is easy.  Toddlers can do it.  We don’t fight injustice well when we’re angry.  If we did, why wouldn’t we want the police, the courts, the military to be angry?  We stand for what’s right out of compassion for the vulnerable, and even love for our enemies.  That’s the motivation.  Not anger.  Toddlers can do that.  Christians should be the ones who understand this, not contributing to ‘I’m offended!’ noise.”

Brant sounds—dare I say it?—angry that I said anger has a place in the Christian life.  This is not just a little ironic.  In all fairness to Brant, he softened his tone in subsequent posts.  I have never met Brant and have not, to my recollection, been a guest on his radio program.  But I take it that he is a brother in Christ and I want to respond to him gently, while, at the same time, giving clarity to some who might agree with him.

Let’s consider what I take to be Brant’s well-intentioned objections to what I wrote.

First, he takes issue with my use of Ephesians 4:26 and the fact that I quoted only the first clause of that verse:  “Be angry and do not sin.”  I did this because, as theologians have noted for millennia, that clause can stand alone without compromising the Apostle Paul’s meaning.  For example, in an article on “righteous anger,” Desiring God cites the verse as I did.  We may safely assume we are justified in doing this because it is precisely what Paul does in this same verse.  Paul is quoting the first clause of Psalm 4:4, where David says, “Be angry and do not sin.”  Shall we condemn the Apostle Paul for not quoting the verse in full?

Second, Brant says, “It looks like you deliberately need to ignore [the full verse] to justify a theology of anger.  We’re supposed to get rid of anger.  All of it.”

With all respect, Brant, you are wrong.  As we have seen, I did not abuse the text.  If, however, you do not want to take my word for it, here is what other mainline, evangelical, commentators and preachers have written about this verse:

Charles Spurgeon:

“If you must be angry, (and you must, sometimes) take care that you do not sin when you are angry.  It is rather a difficult thing to be angry, and not to sin; yet, if a man were to see sin, and not to be angry with it, he would sin through not being angry.  If we are only angry, in a right spirit, with a wrong thing, we shall manage to obey the injunction of the apostle: ‘Be ye angry, and sin not:’”

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

“Be ye angry, and sin not—So the Septuagint, Ps 4:4.  Should circumstances arise to call for anger on your part, let it be as Christ’s ‘anger’ (Mr 3:5), without sin.  Our natural feelings are not wrong when directed to their legitimate object, and when not exceeding due bounds.  As in the future literal, so in the present spiritual, resurrection, no essential constituent is annihilated, but all that is a perversion of the original design is removed.  Thus indignation at dishonor done to God, and wrong to man, is justifiable anger.”

John Gill Bible Commentary:

“There is anger which is not sinful; for anger is fouled in God himself, in Jesus Christ, in the holy angels, and in God’s people; and a man may be said to be angry and not sin, when his anger arises from a true zeal for God and religion; when it is kindled not against persons, but sins; when a man is displeased with his own sins, and with the sins of others: with vice and immorality of every kind; with idolatry and idolatrous worship, and with all false doctrine; and also when it is carried on to answer good ends, as the good of those with whom we are angry, the glory of God, and the promoting of the interest of Christ …”

The Expositor’s Greek Testament:

ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μἁμαρτάνετεbe ye angry, and sin not.  The words are taken from Psalm 4:4, and follow the LXX rendering.  The original Hebrew, רִגְזוּ וְאַל־תֶּחֱטָאוּ, is rendered by some ‘Tremble and sin not’ (Ewald; AV, ‘Stand in awe and sin not’), i.e., = ‘let wholesome fear keep you from this sinful course’; by others, as the LXX gives it (Hitz., Del., etc.).  As used by Paul here the words recognise the fact that anger has its rightful place and may be a duty, while they indicate also how easily it may pass into the sinful….  A righteous wrath is acknowledged in Scripture as something that not only may be but ought to be, and is seen in Christ Himself (Mark 3:5).  So Paul speaks here of an anger that is approvable and to be enjoined, while in the καὶ μἁμαρτάνετε he forbids only a particular form or measure of anger.”

I could cite a dozen more, but I hope this is sufficient to demonstrate that I have not invented “a theology of anger.”

Brant’s discomfort with my blog post is noteworthy and, I believe, sincere.  He is representative of many Christians, particularly younger Christians, who have been indoctrinated with notions of love and tolerance—biblical concepts, to be sure—that have been amputated from their Scriptural context.  This has enabled the Cultural Left to hijack them and use them against Christians who apparently don’t know any better.  Wrongly assuming love and anger are mutually exclusive emotions, many Christians have sought, as The Expositor’s Greek Testament observes, “to empty the injunction [of Ephesians 4:26] of its obvious meaning.”

Can anger be the opposite of love?  Certainly.  As cited above in Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary, “Our natural feelings are not wrong when directed to their legitimate object, and when not exceeding due bounds.”  Thus, anger, love, sorrow—and, yes, even hate—are emotions found in our righteous God, and when we rightly direct and express them, they are virtuous emotions in us, too.  But when their object is not legitimate and when they exceed due bounds, we give “opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:27)

Finally, Brant brings Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Dallas Willard in to lend his argument authority.  I knew the late Dallas Willard (the two of us spent a hilarious day together wandering around Budapest, but I’ll save that story for another time) and I have great respect for his legacy.  I do not disagree with what Brant quotes him as saying, that is, that God can be trusted with anger to a degree that we, a fallen and sinful race, cannot.  But this is true of every emotion.  Humanity cannot, for example, be fully trusted with love either.  Homosexuality, wrote C.S. Lewis, is “Eros, turned upside down, blackened, distorted, filthy …”[1]  It is, in short, a perversion of love. Even so, that man occasionally abuses emotions like anger and love does not mean those emotions are illegitimate in all their forms.

As for Bonhoeffer, well, I can’t say that I knew him personally.  But he does not help Brant’s argument against the idea of righteous anger.  Bonhoeffer was, after all, part of a plot to assassinate Hitler.  I also suspect that Brant, like many Evangelicals (I include myself here), would find himself at variance with Bonhoeffer’s theology on several points.  I say this while at the same time acknowledging the martyr’s rightful place in the “Christian Hall of Fame.”

In closing, let me say this to Brant and any who struggle with the idea of righteous anger.  A straightforward reading of Scripture tells us that anger is justified in some instances.  The Lord is described as angry in both the Old and New Testaments on numerous occasions.  As a member of my staff quipped, “Jesus wasn’t whistling a little ditty when he fashioned a whip of cords and drove the moneylenders out of the temple!”  No, he wasn’t.  Moreover, common sense tells you that there are times when anger is the right response.  If you think otherwise, you have either lived a charmed and sheltered life or you have turned a blind eye to the evil of this world.  I again remind you of the fact that 54 million children have been murdered by abortionists since 1973; that people, children most of all, are being trafficked every day; and Christians are dying for their faith at a rate of 100,000 per year.  As Spurgeon says, a man sins if he is not angered by such things.  I will go further: such things should not only anger the Christian, they should move him to action.

To feel or to do otherwise is just, well, candy-assed.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, p. 110.