Let's cut to the chase: it's good to know what righteous anger looks like because you don't want to go around being angry and calling it righteous if it isn't.
I define righteous anger as anger for things you know God detests. But there's a second part to this definition. Your anger only remains righteous if it doesn't cause you to sin.
To know what God detests, you first need to know Him. Thankfully His Holy Word allows us to do that very well. Because of the Bible, I know that God hates sin. It makes Him angry, and He can have nothing to do with it.
God hates sin because it separates us from Him, and He wants to be in every inch of our lives. When I think about it, that's why I hate sin too. As I've grown in my relationship with the Lord, He has revealed the answers to so many questions, and I want that for everyone else, so when I see people choosing sin, I get angry because I know God has much better for them.
However, if your anger against sin causes you to sin, it is not righteous. But it's vital to remember that anger alone is not a sin. For example, if you are angry that someone is cheating to push their agenda ahead of what is good and pure, that's okay because it angers God too. But if your anger causes you to lie or cheat in an attempt to even the scales, then you can no longer call it righteous anger.
So let's look at the Bible and see what it tells us about God and righteous anger:
Jesus Flipping Tables
We'll start with the most confusing example of righteous anger, and I'm sure it's one you're well acquainted with; yes, the story of Jesus flipping the tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12-14). This anger doesn't seem righteous; at first read, it appears Jesus has lost his temper. The reason for his anger is indeed righteous because the people were committing practices that went against God's sacred design for His temple. But was flipping tables righteous?
Yes, it was righteous! Jesus is our judge; God appointed Him as such. Acts 17:31 says, "For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead." In my experience, it seems Christians feel unsure about this story because flipping tables sounds violent, but I know that if Jesus did it, it was righteous.
We know that Jesus never hurt anyone—this story included. His next order of business in verse 14 was to heal the blind and the lame, and He did. This fact affirms that pride or selfishness had nothing to do with his table-flipping. It was His perfect loyalty to God the Father that provoked His action.
What Sins Should Anger Us?
We've already established that God hates sin, so let's explore what God considers sin. What are the sins that should anger us?
In Proverbs 6:16-19, we are given an actual list of the sins God hates. "There are six things the LORD hates—no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family." (NLT). Not only should we avoid these sins, but it's understandable if they anger us when committed in our presence.
The Pharisees often angered Jesus, but his anger didn't move him toward retaliation. We see here in Mark 3:5-6 that it made him sad, "He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, 'Hold out your hand.' So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus." (NLT)
I know Jesus wanted all of the Pharisees to be saved. He used every opportunity to teach and encourage them to check their hearts because He loved them even though they made Him mad and mistreated Him.
Isn't Jesus' example of righteous anger beautiful? We see sin angers Him, but His response is love, which reflects our Heavenly Father's love. It is also the love we should pour out on others. In Christ's anger, He did not sin; He chose love. And that's what we can do too.
Expressing anger toward someone we care about doesn't necessarily mean we are doing anything wrong. Often, people like to throw our anger in our faces as if it's inherently wrong, but that is not the truth. Have you ever had someone make you feel guilty for getting angry with them? I have, and consequently, it's damaged me emotionally. I went around for years believing I wasn't allowed to express my emotions, so instead, I would edit myself to cater to the other person's emotions.
Jesus shows us that having emotions is not a sin, not even anger. So why do we place so much negativity around anger? It's because most of the anger expressed in this world is not righteous. The worldly anger expressed goes against God; it serves selfish desires and fears. It's also deceptive, violent, and fueled by hate and pride.
It's no secret that God gets angry. If you dig into the stories where God is angry with His people (like Exodus 32, Numbers 32, and Isaiah 1-36), you'll see that His anger is consistent with the sin of rebellion. But we know His anger is righteous because He is God.
Psalms 7:11 says, "God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day" (NLT). It's important to remember this. We pretend God's loving, kind nature holds no place for anger, perhaps because it gives us more freedom to sin and not be held accountable. But believing that is just a way to fool ourselves. God's anger against sin is part of His expression of love.
As God's people, we must hate evil, it must anger us, and when it does, we can be encouraged! It means we are getting to know the Lord better than ever because we love righteousness and hate sin, just like He does. "You who love the LORD, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked." -Psalms 97:10 (NLT).
Hopefully, you better understand what righteous anger looks like now.
How to Practice Righteous Anger
Here are some reminders that can help you practice righteous anger:
Remember that anger isn't inherently wrong. Sin is supposed to anger us. Bring that anger to the Lord and let His wisdom guide you. "Don't sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent." Psalms 4:4 (NLT)
When angry, pause. Ask yourself what is fueling your anger. Is this an offense against you or God? If you need a reminder about what offends God, see the list in Proverbs 6:16-19.
When you feel righteous anger, don't sin. Remember, your anger may be justified, but it doesn't earn you the right to sin as a means of getting even.
God is love. He defines love, which is why it's crucial to know the God of the Bible. Not various versions that the world and the church have pieced together about Him. To live a life that honors Him, we must know who He is. To model righteous anger, we need to know the righteous One.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/master1305
Vanessa Luu is a wife, mother, and faith-based writer. She speaks and writes to believers to encourage them to live authentically with God.