Be Angry But Do Not Sin
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.
28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
When I was a hospital chaplain in DC, I would often listen to NPR on my drive in and out. It helped a lot with the traffic and congestion to be able to listen and learn about what was happening in our world
One morning as I was driving into work, I heard a story about girls in Iraq. This was 2013 and ISIL was spreading and taking over more and more cities and land. And in one of these regions, a religious minority called the Yazidi were attacked horribly. Thousands of men were killed. And then the women were taken, forced to be wives of ISIl members. Terrible story after terrible story was told. And then finally they told the story of every girl in these towns being taken out of school. The leaders of ISIL believed only males should ever learn, and that women should only serve the men. They believed that God did not want females to go to school and learn and be equals with males.
At this point in the story, I pulled into the hospital garage, and got out of my car fuming. I was so angry at what I had just heard. And as I came into the office that day, I had to take a few breaths and walk around a little bit. And then I started worrying. Should a chaplain be angry? Could I minister to all these people and also be someone who can be mad when they hear news on the radio? Was my reaction of being angry, really Christian?
That afternoon, we met together as coworkers to go over our week, and I shared with them my anger, wondering what their response would be, expecting them to tell me helpful ways of getting rid of the anger fast. But instead, they asked me, “Why do you think you were so angry hearing that story?” And at that I had to pause and actually reflect. And then I said back, “Because that is not how anyone in this world should be treated. Because it’s not fair at all that I get to be here in safety and horrible things are happening over there. Because I feel helpless to do anything. Because I believe very strongly that females and males are both made in God’s image to learn and grow and go amazing things in their lives. Because I know that the God I know is so much greater than this false idol of ISIL, but I can’t understand why God is letting this happen.”
I finally took a breath. And then my coworkers looked back at me and said, “You should be angry. That doesn’t make you a bad chaplain or a bad Christian. It makes you someone who cares.”
There are times we should be angry. When we see injustice in our world. When we see people badly mistreated. When something bad happens to someone we love. Anger can be good. It shows we care what happens out there in the world. It shows we can feel a connection to others. It shows that we are creatures who can love, and because we love, we will sometimes feel grief and anger and pain at what happens to ourselves and to other beings.
We in the church today often separate out anger and holiness, but the Bible never does so. Jesus gets angry when religious people miss the point and don’t welcome people as they should. The Psalmists cry out in anger. The prophets get angry when the poor are mistreated, the widow forgotten, and the immigrant harassed. Even God the Creator gets angry when people start to worship themselves and their own idols, when kings misuse power, and when the community has forgotten how to live together. God sometimes gets angry.
And that is not a bad thing. We don’t want a god who is never angry. A god who is never angry is a god who doesn’t care. A god who is never angry is a god who doesn’t love us so much that our pain is God’s pain, that our joy is God’s joy. A god who is never angry is not so connected to us and this whole creation that god would come and take on our flesh and blood to teach us and guide us and heal us and show us a whole new life. A god who is never angry would be an abstract, uncaring, unloving god. And that’s not the God who made us, and redeems us, and is with us wherever we go.
Because God loves us, God gets angry. When things are not right, when people are hurt, when dignity and value and human worth are taken away, God gets angry. And so should the people of God. We should be upset when we see the wrongs in this world.
But how do we live as this letter to the Ephesians calls us to live: “Be angry, but do not sin?” I know plenty of times that I am angry, and I have acted out of that anger in ways that are not healthy or good. Or I get angry over things that are not really about justice or righteousness or mercy, but instead because the Cavaliers lost or I get cut off in traffic or I jam my finger.
A year ago, Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest who wrote “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” was noticing that he was feeling a lot of frustration and anger. He was deeply concerned about the treatment of refugees and immigrants in our country. But he was also looking at his church and community and noticing a widening and widening division occurring. And he felt more and more frustration and anger build up in him. So he asked himself, “What do I do with these strong feelings, and where is God in all this?”
His first rule is that if it is from God, it will always be grounded in mercy and love. Are you being angry out of mercy and love? If so, there’s a good chance God is also angry out of mercy and love.
And the second rule is, if this is from God, then I need to discern what God is speaking to me. It’s easy to get mad at the news and do nothing. But it is much more fruitful to take that anger, bring it to prayer to God, take some time for discernment and thought, and then find ways to act from it that are helpful and loving and good.
I know after I read his words, I was challenged. Like Father Martin, I felt anger. But unlike him, I had kept it inside without prayer, discernment or action. After I read his words and sometime in prayer, I was moved to give money to some organizations that support and care for and protect refugees. Being angry was the start. But God was using that anger to prompt me to more. And God is doing the same for all of us.
As Paul writes about anger, when it is from God it is a prompting to change ourselves and change our world:
28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
God gets angry, but God takes that anger, and instead of desiring for all of us to pay for the ways we have hurt each other, God works for healing. God works to teach us the ways we have been wrong. God works to forgive us and bring us back together. God takes that anger of an unjust world and somehow molds into redeeming and powerful grace. Even as God gets angry, God still wants goodness for all of us.
We are called to do the same. It’s okay, in fact it can be good that you get angry when you see injustice in the world. It can be good that you get angry when someone is hurt. It can be good that you feel something and see that this world still needs healing. But turn that anger into something good. Mix that anger with love. Remember the grace and healing and vision God has for this world. And join in on that. Be angry, but do not sin. Amen.