Updated: Jul 6, 2021
Justified Anger. We convince ourselves that we have the "right" to be angry and our position of "rightness" demands that we must be angry. We live in a day where "rights" have dominated our culture and our churches. Think of anger as our own "peaceful (or not-so-peaceful) demonstration" to champion our rights. The question we must ask is, "Does God allow for me to exercise my right to be angry?" Do I have the "right" to be angry?
Jonah is a great example to help us understand our "right to be angry" spirit. We do not often use Jonah as an example for anger, but the second half of the book reveals a conversation between God and Jonah regarding Jonah's anger.
Remember the setting, Jonah does not want to preach to the people in Nineveh. At the outset it may seem that this is righteous anger for the sake of God's holiness, but as we look closer we understand that while Jonah's anger involves the wickedness of the people, His greater anger is that they will not suffer the punishment from God that they deserve. Jonah 4:1 speaks of his anger that is directed toward God. He did not want to preach because He knew God would show mercy and grace to the people rather than judgment (this was the same mercy and grace that Jonah had just experienced moments before). Anger does that. It sees ourselves as deserving God's mercy, but does not see others as worthy of receiving God's mercy.
His anger rages against God greatly that he declares that he would rather die than see the people repent! God responds (4:4) by asking, "Do you have the right to be angry?" Jonah could have humbly repented at that moment, but he digs in deeper in his pride and anger. He challenges God by heading outside the city to sit and wait for God's judgment to come. The story goes on to describe the life and death of a plant and how Jonah mourns the plant's death and once again justifies his anger over the death of the plant. He declares that he has the "right" to be angry over the plant and declares that he would rather die than live without the plant. (Does Jonah have a death wish?)
God helps us to see how skewed our perception is when anger burns within our hearts. We develop tunnel vision in our perception of what is right. We focus on our own suffering. We refuse to listen to other's opinions and views. We cannot see how they could possibly be right. Even more seriously, we call into question God's declaration of "right." God asks Jonah, "Am I not right for having pity on 120,000 souls?" Note how Jonah's "right" to be angry elevated a plant that lives today and perishes tomorrow over the eternal souls of so many. Is there really a comparison? Is Jonah justified in His anger? The understood answer is "no." However, Scripture does not give us Jonah's response. If he continues on the path of his own "rightness," he would choose the plant. If he humbles himself and listens to God, he would choose mercy and grace for the people.
How has our "right" to be angry blinded us to what is really important to God? How have we sacrificed the souls of those around us because all that we would see is our "right" to be angry? Anger does blind us. It blinds us to our own sinful pursuit and blinds us to what God says is truly important. We must surrender our "right" to be angry to allow God to work in us, through us, and in those around us.