America is angry. And a lot of people like to prove-up their anger by calling it ‘righteous,’ and pointing to Jesus, who flipped over tables and used a whip “fashioned from cords” to chase the money-changers from the Temple (John 2:16.) While many of us use this story to legitimize our actions, we’ve little understanding about what this word, ‘righteous’ actually means.
The word ‘righteous,’ is defined simply as being morally correct. But what does it mean when used in conjunction with ‘anger,’ and ‘violence?’
The Holy Spirit commands us (II Timothy 3:16-17) as believers to put on the “new self” and “be angry” with a different kind of anger (Ephesians 4:24-26.) If you study, you’ll find that Jesus shows us what it looks like to be angry in a way that is pleasing to God.
There are at least 15 times in the Gospel where Jesus displays righteous anger outwardly. Here are but a few:
Jesus railed against the Pharisees’ hypocrisy in Matthew 23. Jesus overturned the tables when the sellers and money-changers turned God’s house of prayer into a “den of robbers” (Jeremiah 7:11.)
It was Jesus, who looked at around “with anger” when the Pharisees cared nothing whatsoever about a man with a “withered hand” who was there in the synagogue with them (Mark 3:1-5.) Furthermore, Jesus raged at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:33, 38,) while he “snorted like a horse.”
He even rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23.)
It’s interesting to note that Jesus didn’t fight to prevent his own arrest and he didn’t allow others to fight on his behalf; but he did fight in reaction to what he saw as morally unlawful and in the interests of others. For those of us with confrontational personalities, we might want to ask ourselves, “Is my motive to be right or to be righteous?” before ripping into an offending party.
If it’s simply to be right, we’ve got it all wrong. Of course, if you have to ask yourself the above question – it’s a near-guarantee you’re on the evil side of the equation as I’ve learned through some personal and painful experiences.
Another way to check ourselves is by examining our actions before they occur, after all Godly anger and violence is not vigilante justice, it is legal justice. Throwing an elbow into a man’s face for simply disagreeing with your opinion, is un-Godly, yet defending yourself from an act of overt violence is Godly.
In the end, the surprise of Jesus’ anger is that it sets us free, delivering us from evil. It enables us to let go of “the sin which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1) and compels us to hate our own sin, and to “Abhor what is evil,” which is a New Testament commandment that is all too often ignored and disobeyed (Romans 12:9.)