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Do you have a right to be angry?


Have you ever wondered whether you have a right to be angry? Or if you are already angry with someone or something, whether you should hold on to that anger?

What should we do when there is injustice? What should we feel or do when confronted with things such as terrorism and murder/suicide?

It seems that every week there is a new report of a crime of terror, or seemingly mindless violence. We try to fathom the reasons behind the crimes, and struggle to understand why these individuals, or groups, think it is ok or even justified to act the way they do. They often don't show remorse, or seem to care about the results of their actions, and many times they aren't even around to answer for their actions or explain what led them to do what they did.

The co-pilot of the Germanwings plane crash in the Alps, the men behind the Boston Marathon bombings, the man behind the mass shooting in a movie theatre in 2012 (facing trial soon) - their motives are incomprehensible to most of us. The spread of Islamic State, the turmoil in places like Syria, the Ukraine, the deaths as a result of protests or excessive police action - these show many innocent people being hurt, killed, disenfranchised or forced to become refugees. We wonder at what reasoning justifies the war and the killing going on. Online media brings news to us quickly, and often with graphic images. Many of us will feel outrage at the violence, and deeply moved by what has happened and the situations people still find themselves in.

How are we expected to apply forgiveness to these situations?

Romans 12:17-21 The Message (MSG)

17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

What does this mean... does this mean to even give a killer kindness?

It's not talking here about letting the evil continue or not trying to prevent it, but rather our reaction to wrongdoing, and how we should treat people who have done wrong. It's not talking here about letting someone doing bad things walk all over us, or take advantage of us time and time again. Nor is it about giving people permission to break the law without consequence. Are we not being asked, however, to treat our enemies as human beings, with feelings and needs, and to refrain from revenge and hate?

This kind and forgiving attitude is nevertheless hard to apply even in our everyday lives, for more ordinary situations such as when people cut us off in traffic, take our lunch from the work fridge, push in front of us at the supermarket, or sell us shoddy goods. Things like this, even little things, tend to make us angry and want to teach them a lesson.

“Anything done in anger can be done better without it!” wrote Dallas Willard (Eternal Living: Reflections on Dallas Willard's Teaching on Faith and Formation).

Brant Hansen has written a book about the problem of "righteous anger", and provokes his readers to challenge whether we are entitled to get offended or stay angry. He says that giving up our “right” to be offended can be one of the most freeing, healthy, simplifying, relaxing, refreshing, stress-relieving, encouraging things we can do.

“Your life will become less stressful when you give up your right to anger and offense. And by the way, if you don’t, you’re doomed. So there’s that too.” (Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better)

Hansen believes that Christian's have a tendency to "cherry-pick" scriptures to justify their position, to justify their right to be angry.

Hansen provides some examples of some beautiful exceptions to the judgmental view that many take. Here is an excerpt from chapter 6 of his book "Unoffendable":

True story: A friend of mine who did not believe in God haphazardly drove her car into a road construction worker and cost him his legs. From a hospital bed...he forgave her. She now believes in God.

Stunning.

Another true story: A few days ago, there was a funeral for a friend of mine. Jerry was a doctor who served the poor in Afghanistan and in Chicago. After arriving for work at CURE International's hospital in Kabul, he was shot and killed by a rogue Afghan police officer.

I cried when I heard about Jerry's death. It still hurts. I loved him. But I cried again, in awe, when I saw his wife, Jan, forgiving his killer just a day after it happened. "We don't know the backstory," she said. And Jerry was there because he knew Jesus loves the people of Afghanistan.

Amazing.

Yes, the world is broken. But don't be offended by it. Instead, thank God that He's intervened in it, and He's going to restore it to everything it was meant to be. His kingdom is breaking through, bit by bit. Recognize it, and wonder at it.

War is not exceptional; peace is. Worry is not exceptional; trust is. Decay is not exceptional; restoration is. Anger is not exceptional; gratitude is. Selfishness is not exceptional; sacrifice is. Defensiveness is not exceptional; love is.

And judgmentalism is not exceptional...

But grace is.

What would it take to let go of judgmentalism, and to let go of our feeling of entitlement to being angry about things we think, or even know, are not right? What would it take to allow God to work out his justice in his time, and in his way? Are we taking burdens on ourselves that belong to God?

Forgiving is an action, not just an attitude, and it is not "doing nothing". Mercy is an action. Love is not just an emotion, it's an action. In all of these attitudes and approaches to wrongdoing we can be doing something, and doing something good. We need to take action to halt injustice, and to prevent injustice, and do this in love, not in anger.

Here are a couple more quotes from Brant Hanson's book, which was published this month (available for purchase on Amazon).

“What the world needs, I think you’ll agree, is not a group of people patting themselves on the back for being angry. We need people who actually act to set things right.”

“Anger is extraordinarily easy. It’s our default setting. Love is very difficult. Love is a miracle.”

(Brant Hansen, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better) Published April 14th 2015 by Thomas Nelson

Visual elements in this post were adapted from vector images sourced from www.freepik.com

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