Anger is not something we can avoid. It is something that we must do well. But few know what “righteous anger” would look like.
Below are seven test questions for righteous anger taken from David Powlison’s article (bold text only) “Anger Part 1: Understanding Anger” from The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Fall 1995).
1. Do you get angry about the right things? (Right Trigger) Anger declares actions wrong and / or people evil. Anger is a moral emotion because it makes moral declarations. Too often our anger is triggered by personal preference or mere selfishness. In order to be good or right, anger must be in agreement with God about the nature of what it condemns.
2. Do you express anger in the right way? (Right Response) Anger should address problems not attack people. Godly anger wants to see sin eliminated and sinners redeemed. If our personal anger degrades or harms another person it is wrong either because it is excessive or because it is personally addressing a matter that should be addressed by the church (Matt 18:15-17) or state (Rom 13:1-7).
3. How long does your anger last? (Duration) Sinful anger can be excessive in degree or duration. A long, slow burn is as wrong as a quick, hot flare (although the impact of each is different). While the saying “forgive and forget” is neither possible nor biblical, an offense that is harbored and replayed in one’s mind is bitterness (another flavor of sinful anger). One good measure for bitterness is how many details you remember about the offense.
4. How controlled is your anger? (Controlled) Anger can consume you without sinning against anyone else. Anger management techniques rooted in venting or catharsis, often encourage uncontrolled anger. God never “loses it” even in private. The more we use exhaustion-based techniques to squelch anger, the more we build the stamina and power of our anger (and the less we address the heart as the source of anger).
5. What motivates your anger? (Motive) We can be angry about the right thing in the right way for the wrong reason. Example: Rudeness in children is wrong. There are many forms of appropriate discipline. However, if our primary motive in disciplining our children is to prevent them from embarrassing us in public, then our anger is sinful. We have made our glory and peace the center of the world and emotionally forced it upon our children.
“Truth that is not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it becomes distorted by human impatience, bitterness, and anger (p. 228).” Paul Tripp in War of Words
6. Is your anger “primed and ready” to respond to another person’s habitual sins? (Primed) Godly anger restores peace; not just externally (life situation) but also internally (emotional disposition). When we settle for anger management that leaves the “fire” just beneath the surface, our solution has left us in perpetual temptation. It is also a good indicator we have only addressed the expression of anger and not the heart (beliefs, values, agendas) that fueled it.
7. What is the effect of your anger? (Effect) Godly anger restores the repentant. Godly anger genuinely wants peace more than vengeance. Do you want the offender to repent or pay? Do your words while angry point the other person towards God or focus upon you? Are you just concerned about whether God agrees with you (“I’ve got a verse that says I’m right”) or are you trying to represent God in that moment (2 Cor. 5:18-21)?
“The clearest gauge of whether anger is right or wrong in its expression is whether it acts to condemn or to offer help (p. 50).” David Powlison in “Understanding Anger: Part 1” in JBC (Fall 1995).
This post is an excerpt from the “Overcoming Anger” seminar provide a way to discern righteous anger.