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Category Articles
Date September 12, 2008

But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. (Jonah 4:1)

General George Patton was commanding the Seventh Army in the summer of 1943, and his objective was to overrun the Italian forces on Sicily in order to drive them from the war. He also hoped to make Hitler commit troops from the eastern front, thus relieving Stalin’s Red Army of the stress they were facing at the time. On July 22 Patton took Palermo and cut off 50,000 Italian troops. A few days later seventy-three Italian POW’s were shot by troops from the 45th division under Patton’s charge. In their defence at their court martial, two officers said that Patton had told them to take no prisoners. On August 10, while visiting wounded soldiers in the army hospital, Patton encountered a private without wounds. When asked by Patton why he was there, he replied, ‘I guess I just can’t take it anymore, Sir. The shelling is too much for me.’ Patton went into a rage, swearing obscenities, hitting the man twice with his fists on the head, and waving his pistol at him, threatening to kill him. General Omar Bradley buried the first incident and gave Patton a brief suspension for the second. Though a great and brilliant General, clearly Patton’s rage got the best of him. Proverbs 25:26 says, ‘Like a city that is broken into and without walls, is a man who has no control over his spirit.’ Anger, left unchecked, can be a deadly emotion, causing people to say or do things they later regret, causing those in the destructive path to live with intimidation, resentment, and fear. Are you an angry person? How does your anger reveal itself?

Jonah was angry. Why? We know from Jonah 1 that God had commanded him to go to Nineveh, near modern day Mosul in northern Iraq, on the shore of the Tigris River. Instead he sailed from Joppa on the Mediterranean coast, due north to Tarshish, in modern day south-eastern Turkey. In other words, at God’s command Jonah fled in the opposite direction. Jonah lived and preached during the reign of Jeroboam II in Samaria, a time of unprecedented prosperity for some with unspeakable oppression for many. Why did Jonah flee from the presence of the Lord? He did so because he did not want the Ninevites to hear the gospel and be saved. In Jonah 3:10, after God had used Jonah’s faithful preaching to convert the vast city of Nineveh, thus averting his certain judgment, he became angry, in essence saying, ‘I knew you to be a God of loving kindness and compassion. That’s precisely why I fled to Tarshish. I wanted to prevent the conversion of the Ninevites. This is too much for me. Please take my life.’ It is obvious that Jonah is filled with rage. Why is he angry and to whom is his anger directed? Is it not clear that Jonah is a racial and religious bigot? He hates the uncircumcised, pagan Ninevites. They are not worthy of God’s grace. He is angry at God for bestowing his grace on them.

There are two types of anger. One is righteous and the other is not. Paul commands that we be angry and yet not sin. He goes on to say that we are not to allow the sun to go down on our anger ( Ephesians 4:26). So, not all anger is sin. Righteous anger says, ‘God is right, and that is wrong.’ When Jesus makes a whip in John 2:13ff and drives the moneychangers out of the temple he is displaying righteous anger. They were making his Father’s house a den of robbers. You ought to be angry at injustice. Your blood ought to boil over the slaughter of the innocents in our country through abortion. You ought to seethe at usury charged to the poor by loan sharks. I once paid off a poor man’s loan where he was paying 68% annual interest. But let’s face it – most of us rarely use righteous anger. Most of us are guilty of unrighteous anger. That’s when we say, ‘I am right. You are wrong, and God is wrong.’ When your child breaks loose from your grasp, runs into traffic, and narrowly escapes being hit by a moving car, you are justified in your anger. God has set the world in such a way that bad things happen to children who are hit by moving automobiles. But when you are angry because your one year old has kept you up for several hours in the middle of the night for five nights in a row, then that’s unrighteous anger. You see, unrighteous anger comes because we say, ‘I have my agenda, my goals, my plan, my vision, my space and you are resisting or thwarting me. I am right in what I want, and you are wrong.’ Actually, unrighteous anger reveals our failure to trust God’s plan. After all, is he not completely sovereign in all the affairs of this world? Are there really any accidents? Was God asleep at the wheel when he put that incompetent store clerk in your path, causing you to be late with your other tasks? Did it catch God off guard that your boss was unkind to you, embarrassing you in front of other workers? Unrighteous anger comes because we fail to see God in everything. We fail to see and trust his sovereignty, goodness, love, and wisdom.

Where does this take us? It brings loud or quiet displays of anger. You know too well what I mean by loud displays – things like violent actions, throwing things. It yields vindictive, vituperous, vitriolic speech with cursing swearing, slandering, and gossiping. But perhaps an even more dangerous display is quiet anger where one becomes withdrawn, sullen, given to self-pity, wishing secretly for one’s demise or hardship, withholding love from the person, eventually bringing a coldness of heart for many other people too. Are you given over to loud or quiet anger?

What are you to do? It is not enough to say, ‘I guess I ought to do better. Maybe I can get rid of this one day.’ Unrighteous anger is sin. It is a killer. You need to deal with it biblically. You need to do three things. First, you ought to do what God asked Jonah. When angry, ask yourself, ‘Self, why are you angry? Are you justified in this anger?’ If you are honest with yourself, then most likely you will admit that you are not justified in it. It simply comes down to, ‘I am right, and you and God are wrong.’ So, learn to see God in everything, submitting to his will. He is in the details. Second, you must confess your anger as sin. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. If you confess your sins, then God is faithful and just to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. And third, you need to hold onto the twin doctrines of God’s compassion and propitiation. Here’s the glorious and mind boggling truth. In your unregenerate state, God was perfectly justified in his anger toward you. You had sinned against his manifold goodness. His wrath hung over you like a cloud and when the measure of your sin was filled up, his wrath would have come on you to the uttermost (1 Thessalonians 2: 16). ‘In an outburst of anger, I hid my face from you for a moment. But with everlasting loving kindness I will have compassion on you’ (Isaiah 54:8). Christ took hell, God’s just judgment for you. He suffered damnation lovingly, patiently, compassionately for you. Your sinful anger is a serious matter. Run to Christ daily for refuge and grace, marveling at his compassion and propitiation. Use both as a motivation for holiness.

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Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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