Do You Do Right to be Angry?

punch-316605_640I was grumpy. Those of you who know me may be surprised by that statement, but believe it or not, I do get grumpy from time to time! Don’t believe me? Ask someone in my family.

So anyway, I was grumpy. As is usually the case, it was over something stupid. My plans had been somewhat changed – hardly changed – but I didn’t like it. I was thinking grumpy thoughts toward my mom, even though it really wasn’t her fault. Honestly, when I think about it, I think I was grumpy because my plans had been sort of taken out of my hands and put in hers instead, and I was resenting the loss of control. Even though the end result was pretty much the same. Silly, right?

Well, as I was grumbling inwardly to myself, these words rose in my mind, “Do you do right to be angry?”

Do you do right to be angry?

It stopped me in my grumblings. I knew the answer. What I didn’t know, though, was where had I heard those words before?

Was it from the story of Cain and Abel? Had God spoken those words to Cain as part of His warning to him?

I thought about that story. Cain was angry at his brother without a cause. What right had he to be angry at Abel? Abel had done nothing wrong, either before God or to Cain. And yet Cain was angry at his brother because of his own failure. Instead of examining why his sacrifice was unacceptable and how he could do differently next time – in other words, having an attitude of humility – he directed his focus outwardly, stirring up anger and resentment toward his brother. Why? Because his pride had been hurt. His brother had done better than he. And it made him mad. Ultimately that pride bred hate, and that hate culminated in murder.

My grumpiness was nowhere near that level. But I realized that it followed the same vein. It was the fruit of selfishness, rooted in pride.

Do you do right to be angry?

The next day I looked in Genesis to see if the quote was indeed from there. To my surprise, it was not. But God did ask a similar question:

“Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Gen. 4:6-7, NKJV).

When I feel that sense of anger rising in my chest, do I rule over it? Or does it rule over me?

“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Prov. 25:28). The gate is left wide open, the door has no lock, and sin walks right in and takes over.

“But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice . . .” (Col. 3:8). “. . . The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecc. 7:8b-9). “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression”( Pro. 19:11).

Do you do right to be angry?

If it wasn’t from Genesis, where was it from? I was certain the convicting question was a quote from somewhere. I ended up turning to the Internet for an answer, and quickly discovered the verses I was thinking of: Jonah 4:4 and 4:9.

Jonah 3 ends with God seeing the repentance of Ninevah and, in His mercy, relenting from the destruction He had initially planned. And chapter 4 starts off by describing Jonah’s reaction: he’s not too happy about it. This is exactly what he was afraid would happen. He becomes so angry, “exceedingly” so, the text tells us, that he wishes he could just die! To this childish rant God replies simply, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Still fuming, Jonah stomps off and sets up camp where he can view the city, in the hope that God will return to His original plan – and that he’ll get to be a spectator of Ninevah’s destruction. We know what happens next. God creates a plant to shade Jonah from the heat, then lets a worm eat it the next day and makes the heat really beat down on Jonah’s head. Again, Jonah is so upset with what’s going on that he wishes he could die. And once again God asks the question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

And He points out the misdirection of Jonah’s feelings:

“You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?” (Jonah 4:10-11).

Like Cain, Jonah was focused on the wrong things. All he could think about was what he wanted, on what he envisioned, and when God had other ideas, it made him angry. Again, his anger was a fruit of selfishness, rooted in pride.

 

God asked Cain, “Why are you angry?” And in the next verses Cain went out and murdered his own brother.

God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” The first time He asks it, Jonah stomps off. The second time He asks it, Jonah answers with stubborn pride, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

Now when God asks us, “Do you do right to be angry?”, is our response any better?