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Posted on Oct 07, 2020 by Mike LeDuke

Fret Not Yourself

Anger doesn’t have good associations. As seen in the last post, the first two instances of anger in the Bible are connected to murder — and that’s probably not a coincidence.

But what about when we become angry and don’t act on that anger? What about when we become angry on others’ behalf — when we see something that seems to be unjust or when we see someone being oppressed or taken advantage of? Should’t we become angry then?

Psalm 37 is a psalm that was written by David. Though David sometimes became angry during his life, consider what God inspired him to write about this emotion:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!Psalm 37:1

The word “fret” is the same word generally translated as “anger” (חָרָה) — and thus, David’s God-given advice was that the wicked should not prompt anger in the righteous. Yet how often do they? How often are we frustrated because those who live in sin are more prosperous than we are? How often do we feel as though life isn’t fair, and God gives better things to those who live in sin than He gives to us or to others? 

Further, shouldn’t we be angry when we see the wicked prospering? Shouldn’t we allow our anger to run rampant because of what the wicked are doing to other people? Certainly it is important to care about others — and to do what we can to help them. And yet, this particualr feeling of wrath or bitterness that we sometimes like to call “righteous anger” doesn’t seem to be something that we, as humans who still struggle against sinful thinking ourselves, are encouraged to have. Yes, God can have righteous anger, because God is righteous. Jesus can have righteous anger because he is righteous. We can’t. Thus, David reminds himself again a few verses later:

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!Psalm 37:7

Do you see the solution? The reason that we are not to become involved in righteous anger is because we recognize that ultimately, God will act. Again, we should do what we can. We should care about those who are oppressed. But when that caring spills over into anger, then we have fallen from the divine ideal. Thus, after reminding us to wait for God to act, David speaks very plainly about anger:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.Psalm 37:8

It would be difficult to be more straightforward and more emphatic than this. And yet, hidden here is still further words about anger — because again, the word for “fret” is חָרָה, or anger. Thus, there is a further prohibition here, perhaps elaborating upon the two in this verse that David has already made against anger. Not only are we to cease from anger and forsake wrath, but we have to put away anger because it leads to evil.

This is just what happened with Cain and Esau: their anger led to worse things. Because they were angry, they became murderous.

Thus, while we might not necessarily act on our anger explicitly, it does lead to evil. Perhaps we only think about the things we would like to do to someone. Perhaps we just talk about it. But regardless, anger, even the anger that we like to justify as “righteous,” is not meant to have a part in our lives. 

But, isn’t anger motivating? Doesn’t it allow us to accomplish a lot and work on behalf of others? Doesn’t it encourage us to stand up for the oppressed, when we might be too afraid to do so otherwise?

Indeed, and those are the questions that we’ll address in the next post.

— Jason Hensley