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Posted on Feb 26, 2021 by Mike LeDuke Next article:Inspired Curses

Righteous Anger

How would you define righteous anger?

It’s a term that seems to mean different things to different people. Some people see it as anger when one has been unjustly accused of something. Others perhaps take it out of the personal realm and instead define it as anger when one sees injustice in society or applied to other people. Still others might see righteous anger as anger that occurs when God has been wronged — or perhaps more broadly, when His principles have been violated. Maybe some would define righteous anger as some combination of these three definitions. In any of these cases, however, righteous anger is seen as anger that is justifiable, or even Godly.

But what is righteous anger Biblically? And how does it look in our own lives? This post, and the one that follows, will attempt to answer these questions.

The book of Genesis has what some would consider an instance of righteous anger. Rachel, Jacob's wife, yearns to have a child, and yet she cannot. So, in frustration, she turns to Jacob and exclaims that he must give her children, or she will die (Genesis 30:1)! Jacob, however, feels that he has no control over the situation, and so, believing that he has been unjustly accused, turns to Rachel in “righteous anger”: “Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, ‘Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’” (Genesis 30:2).

Jacob’s frustration (and Rachel’s) is understandable. He too wanted children, and couldn’t give them. Even more, Rachel had presented him with an ultimatum that he couldn’t fulfill. But, even though his response was understandable, was it helpful? How much better could the situation have been if he had listened and sought to help Rachel? Here, his anger likely just aggravated the problem.

Some might say, though, that despite the injustice of Rachel’s words to Jacob, this isn’t really an example of righteous anger. Instead, Jacob is simply defending himself. Righteous anger is more when someone is angry for the sake of someone else. An example of this form of anger occurs in Jonathan’s story. Saul, Jonathan’s father, was bent on killing David and besmirching his name. When Jonathan realized his, he was filled with anger for David’s sake:

But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him” (1 Samuel 20:33-34).

Notice that Saul threw the spear at Jonathan, but Jonathan was angry for David’s sake. Yet again, the question can be asked: was Jonathan’s anger helpful to the situation? What would have happened if Jonathan had not become angry? Could he have talked to his father and reasoned with him as he did earlier (1 Samuel 19:1-6)?

But again, others might argue that this still isn’t righteous anger. Righteous anger is anger that occurs when God’s honor is maligned or His principles are violated. An example of this occurs in Moses’s life––do you remember the story? Moses saw the people breaking God’s law and dishonoring Him by worshiping a golden calf: “And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain” (Exodus 32:19).

Moses was angry on God’s behalf. But again, the anger did not seem to help this situation. Instead, Moses had to go back up the mountain and get a new set of tablets from God.

In all of these examples of possibly “righteous anger,” the anger doesn’t appear to have made the situation any better or to have somehow brought glory to God. Instead, it created a new problem. Now both Jacob and Rachel were angry. Now Jonathan couldn’t talk to Saul — because Jonathan was angry. Now Moses had to get another set of commands because he broke the first set.

This isn’t to say that there is no such thing as righteous anger. Nor is it to say that humans cannot ever possess righteous anger. But, perhaps we are sometimes a little too free with seeing anger as “righteous.”

But, then, what does righteous anger actually look like? And can we have it? Lord willing, we’ll consider that in the next post.

— Jason Hensley