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What would be defined as "righteous anger"?

Ephesians 4:26 (ESV) says:

26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

So, is all anger justifiable if you don't sin? Or are there other verses that address this subject? When is anger justified?

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5 Answers 5

This is consistent with other verses like James 1:20.

because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Basically they are saying that you aren't going to do anything good when you are angry. One can be angry but one's actions will tend towards sin in these situations.

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To quote St. John Cassian,

Our incensive power [our capacity for the emotion of anger] can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts. This is what the Prophet [Psalmist] teaches us when he says: 'Be angry, and do not sin'---that is, be angry with your own passions and with your malicious thoughts and do not sin by carrying out their suggestions.

This is in his chapter on the vice of anger in his work On the eight vices. He continues,

What follows clearly confirms this interpretation: 'As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart'---that is, when malicious thoughts enter your heart, expel them with anger, and then turn to compunction and repentance as if your soul were resting in a bed of stillness.

With regards to anger towards others or even inanimate objects (e.g. road rage may combine these two), again, St. John writes

we should remove the root of anger, its spark, so to speak, in whatever way we can, and not keep even a single pretext for anger in our hearts. Otherwise we will be stirred to anger initially for what appears to be a good reason and then find that our incensive power is totally out of control.

So righteous anger towards malicious thoughts is just. Other uses of the incensive power are dangerous at best, and usually end up being destructive.

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I wholeheartedly disagree with Jeff's statement:

Basically they are saying that you aren't going to do anything good when you are angry. One can be angry but one's actions will tend towards sin in these situations.

Unfortunately I don't have the references on me now, but I clearly remember from a particular bible study that being angry is good if you use your anger for good.

Think of say, Erin Brockovich, who used her anger to help a community.

It's also saying that being an angry is not an excuse to sin. If you're angry, you still have to strive to not sin. Hitting your wife because you're angry is not an excuse.

Ephesians 4 can also be about marriage. And in this case, never letting the sun go down on an argument is all about not going to bed angry with your husband/wife.

Going to bed angry means that issues don't get resolved (I should know, I went to bed right after having an argument with my wife last night, and I woke up this morning feeling terrible after a bad nights sleep). Unresolved issues and a failure to communicate are at the core to a failed marriage, and it seems that nothing much in that regards has changed over the last 2000 years.

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I agree with what you say, but would you say that anger on behalf of someone else is always/sometimes/mostly good? You gave the example of Erin Brokovich, so I was just wondering. From my understanding, anger on behalf of someone is usually good. E.g. Jesus in the temple. –  daviesgeek Aug 29 '11 at 0:55
@davie - I was going to mention Jesus in the temple, but I ran out of time. Anger itself is neither good nor evil, it's just a state of being. It's what you do with that anger that matters. –  Mark Henderson Aug 29 '11 at 1:44
Can you add that to your answer? It would be helpful. And I agree (I think) with your statement about anger. –  daviesgeek Aug 29 '11 at 5:01

A good example of righteous anger often referred to is when Jesus overturned the tables in the Jerusalem temple (see Matt 21 / Mark 11 / Luke 19) - although if you're feeling pedantic the word anger isn't explicitly mentioned. We know that Jesus led a sinless life so there was no sin in his actions. Some key points that may be extrapolated for anger in general:

  • He didn't let his anger last, and didn't direct it at anyone unfairly; his very next action was to heal others
  • he justified his actions clearly and concisely, even quoting scripture. He remained rational in his anger and did not lose control
  • Jesus was famously ridiculed throughout his life and did not take the bait, but in this instance the offence was not against him personally yet it caused a much stronger reaction. Righteous anger is usually when we are angry on someone else's behalf or defending the defenceless as opposed to taking personal offence at something. (that's not to say the latter is unrighteous though!)
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I'd also add the fact that God himself is described as being "slow to anger, but abounding in mercy." If you are slow to anger, you still get angry! At the risk of self-promotion, I want to link to y own sermon here: sermoncentral.com/sermons/… –  Affable Geek Dec 8 '11 at 15:27

There is more info on the verse you gave us. The whole verse is this:

26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,

Basically, it means that it is ok to be angry at times, but don't let it last longer then a day.

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I added the rest of the verse. Sorry about that. So is all anger that doesn't cause you to sin, okay? –  daviesgeek Aug 27 '11 at 22:35
@davies Well... no. But here is the thing: us being holy or not, we do get angry at times. It is part of our emotion. sometimes we can't help it. What I am saying is that its is ok to get angry once in a while, just don't sin by it. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 27 '11 at 22:41
I agree with you; just clarifying exactly what you said. Your answer was a bit broad. –  daviesgeek Aug 27 '11 at 22:42
I don't want to, but you are free to edit my answer. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Aug 27 '11 at 22:43
it is not exactly to not let the anger last longer than a day. It is meaning that we should be fast to let our anger go quickly. –  mauris Aug 28 '11 at 4:05

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