Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Righteous Anger

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
19 July 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

I recently listened to an excellent BBC podcast

It was entitled “The Big Disease with a Little Name” and charted the history of the HIV-Aids 

For those who can remember, this was another pandemic caused by a virus about 40 years ago

At the time, there was an unpleasant outcry from certain sectors of society, including the Church

The Evangelical Christian Church in America said “God’s judgment is falling on America ,” 

The Baptist Church said “God’s wrath is being poured out on this world”

In more recent times, God’s anger has been blamed, by some, for the COVID-19 pandemic

There is an inclination to believe that God is angry towards us in times of natural disaster

Both readings this morning are about anger

The reading from the Old Testament is about the first murder, when Cain murders his brother in anger

The New Testament reading is also on the same theme

This time, Jesus tells us to avoid anger and to reconcile with our brother and sister instead

These readings represent the two extremes

But where do Christians stand in relation to the issue of anger generally?

First of all, anger is not absent in the Bible – far from it –

Both God and his Son are capable of showing it

In the Old Testament, we know that God was angered by the behaviour of the Israelites

God’s anger is the predominant theme of all the prophetic books in the Old Testament

Anger is not absent from the New Testament either

The best known example is Jesus driving out the money changers from the Temple

As it says in Matthew’s Gospel  

“he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves”

By any standards, this is a serious expression of someone losing it [their temper]

At first blush, it is a bit of a surprise to hear that both God and his Son can get angry

We tend to think of a “loving God” and “gentle Jesus meek and mild” but this is simply not the case.

But what can we deduce from this?

First of all, I think we can safely assume that it is not always wrong to get angry

We would not be fully human if we were not angered by things such as cruelty, deceit, injustice or mistreatment

If God is angered by these things then, just like his Son, we too should be angered in such circumstances

Indeed, a lack of anger might be a reflection of how little we care for other people

I sometimes find myself exasperated by the Anglican Church and its seeming indifference to injustice

It is as if the Church of England exists to be the nations’ referee rather than a player on the pitch

I sometimes say to myself, “get off the fence and say something. Be angry!”

On the other hand, the Bible tells us that we need to get rid of our anger

St Paul says in his letter to the Colossians “We must get rid of anger, wrath, malice and slander” (3:7)

In the letter to the Ephesians he says “Put away all anger and wrangling” (4:31)

Christ tells us this morning he tells us that, rather than be angry with a brother or sister, we must “first be reconciled [with them]”

The Christian ideal is to manifest the gifts of the spirit in our lives

The gifts of “peace, forbearance gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22)

In the light of this, can we get angry at all?

Has the Gospel of Peace made anger redundant?

I was intrigued by a passage I read this week from a Christian academic called John Lennox

He is a professor of mathematics at Oxford University

He argued that virus’ were vital to life on earth and without them, the ecosystem cannot function

Rather than see them as a manifestation of God’s anger, he argues that they are essential for life 

And, above all, he states that virus’ are morally neutral

But as he explains

“God works for good in the midst of it and his plans will not be thwarted by it.

As for our response, he said

We too are responsible for our own responses to the crisis and to each other”

And it seemed to me that this was a good way to approach anger

As John Lennox says “We are [all] responsible for our own responses”

This may require us to get angry and God can “work for good in the midst of it”

Anger is not always wrong, but we must not let it get the better of us

As it says in the Old Testament reading this morning we “must master it

And if we do, we act we can act righteously – so called “righteous anger”

But if we don’t it can lead to sin

Alternatively, and ideally, we should put aside our anger and show forbearance and seek reconciliation instead

This is the Christ like ideal to which even He realised we should aspire to

A virus has no choice as to how to respond 

But Christians do

And, ultimately, it is up to us to best judge how to respond in the light of God’s example and guidance