What is righteous anger? If there is such a thing, wouldn’t it imply that a less passionate, passive response would be inappropriate? In other words, wouldn’t it mean there are times when it’s a sin to not be angry? If anger is the righteous response, wouldn’t any other response be unrighteous to some degree?
Jesus was angry with the Pharisees’ hardness of heart (Mk 3:5), and He certainly acted as if He was angry when He cleansed the temple. (Jn 2:13-17) Was Jesus setting an example (1Jn 2:6), or acting as God in ways we shouldn’t emulate?
Was Nehemiah right to be angry with the rulers and nobles of Israel for charging interest and bankrupting their brethren? (Ne 5:6-7) or to threaten merchants for showing up on Sabbath? (13:21)
Was Moses righteously angry with Israel for worshipping the golden calf? (Ex 32:19) or with Aaron’s sons for failing to carry out their priestly duties? (Le 10:16-17)
Anger is an emotion given us by God, so we should expect situations when we ought to act in it; He tells us, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” (Ep 4:26) The emotion instantly energizes us to intervene and deter and/or stop evil, so anger can serve to protect ourselves and others from malevolence. The problem is that we often over-react in anger and do more harm than good. We should ask ourselves, as God asks Jonah: “Doest thou well to be angry?” (Jon 4:4) What does righteous anger look like?
Firstly, it must be done with love (1Co 16:4); rooted and grounded in love. (Ep 3:17) Is concern for others motivating my anger? (Php 3:18) Would a lack of anger expose indifference? Does anger move me to action which is ultimately benevolent and edifying? (Ro 14:19)
Secondly, is it self-controlled, using minimal necessary force? (Tit 3:2) Am I being sober, thoughtful, prayerful and deliberate in my actions? (1Pe 5:8) Am I asking God for wisdom, strength and discernment? (Ec 7:9) Is it needful? Is there any way to achieve my goal more peaceably? (1Co 4:21) Does my anger promptly subside once the threat is past? (Ep 4:26b)
The bar is certainly high; I expect most anger won’t pass the test. All too often, our anger is born of selfishness and pride, and doesn’t work the righteousness of God. (Ja 1:19-20)
However, if we have reasonable cause to be angry (Mt 5:22a), inaction may be worse than getting it partly wrong: we may be compelled to act instinctively, do the best we can, and let God sort it out. It’s certainly wise to continually exercise ourselves in holiness, preparing ourselves so we might stand uprightly in the evil day. (Ep 6:13)