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Mental Health Counseling from a Biblical Perspective for Teens, Young Adults, Adults, and Couples in the Redmond and NewCastle areas. Seattle Christian Counseling for Teens & Adults emphasizing God's word with Joshua Loy, MA LMHC and Gabe Davis, M.Div, M.S., LMFT.

How Can I Tell If My Anger Is Righteous?

Blog | New Ground Counseling | Addiction Counselor

Blog posts from Joshua Loy, MA LMHC and Gabe Davis MS, MDiv, LMFT. New Ground Counseling focuses on Bible-based, Mental Health Counseling for Teens in the Redmond, Bellevue and greater Seattle area.  Emphasizing the power of God's Word in Biblical Counseling with Teens and Young Adults.

How Can I Tell If My Anger Is Righteous?

Joshua Loy

“Yes, I was angry, but I had a right to be…”

Anger & Self-Deception

Anger is a powerful emotion.  And emotions are convincing.  We believe them.  If we recall the moments when we are angry, we will notice that we’ve already made a judgment.  We know that what they did was wrong.  It seems so clear.

Additionally, anger (and anxiety) engages powerful physical reactions (accelerated heartbeat, pupils dilating, adrenaline release, muscle tension, etc.) that actually reinforce our “rightness.”  MY BODY IS ALSO TELLING ME I AM RIGHT AND YOU ARE WRONG.  But should we believe ourselves?

The Bible gives us unique warnings against self-deception:

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure..." (Jer. 17:9)

"Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires..." (Eph. 4:22)

God says that our human hearts trick us all. the. time.  If we are going to stop being angry people, we have to start with a commitment to examine and even disbelieve our strongest emotions in their loudest moments.  I might be wrong, even when I know I’m right.

But what about righteous anger?  How can we tell if our anger is righteous?

SPOILER:  Everyone thinks their anger is righteous.  But it almost never is.

Because anger is always some form of personal justice, it feels justified.  But is it righteous?

1. Righteous anger reacts against actual sin (as defined by God)

2. Righteous anger focuses on God and his concerns (not me and my concerns)

Usually, we are more concerned how others actions affect us than on it being a violation of God’s character and law.  Again, look back and examine your angry moments.  Our anger usually has to do with our commandments, not God’s.  Also, our book of statutes often extends far beyond the scope of Scripture:

  • Thou shalt not let the sun go down on my text
  • Thou shalt keep this room cleaned at all times
  • Thou shalt love me the way I want to be loved
    (Jones, 2005)

What does God say about this? 

“Brothers, do not slander one another…  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.  But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12). 

God says, “Let me be the judge.”

3. Righteous anger is always self-controlled.  It never retaliates or loses its temper.

Do you retaliate with words, withdrawal of relationship, physical intimidation, or internal stewing?  Then it’s not righteous.  God tells us that retaliation is never an option for the Christian (Bridges, 2007).  Instead, Jesus radically calls us to bless those who offend us or don’t meet our expectations (Matt. 5:44).  But God, how can you expect something so high, so difficult, and so counter-intuitive as this?

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you… so that you might follow in his steps. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23). 

God’s response is so personal.  He points to his own gracious response to my sin. 

When I’m angry, when I’m bitter, when I’m stewing, when I’m hurt—what on earth can move me to abandon my own personal justice, despite reinforcing emotions, and a host of justifications?  Only by remembering the cross, where the innocent Savior absorbed the whole of God’s righteous wrath for me. 

When this stirs us emotionally, it will re-frame our anger:  He put away wrath.  He loved me in spite of my wrongdoing. He gave me grace, even when I sinned against him.  By His power, I can do this too.

NOTE:  I’m not suggesting we should never be angry.  God shows us his perfect response of anger to injustice and sin.  The Bible also displays some instances of righteous anger.  But in over 92% of its references to human anger, it is describing sinful human anger (which is why I’ve focused on that here).  Of the other 8%, most of them are God or Jesus himself (Mark 3:1-6; Mark 10:13-16; John 2:13-17)!