By JANIE PILLOW
Righteous Indignation (Anger) and Forgiveness
For some time now, we have been looking at solutions to conflicts we have in our relationships. As we have seen, conflict can be as simple as a disagreement. But often it is more serious than this. From time to time, we all experience conflicts because we feel seriously wronged.
As strange as it sounds when Godly people are wronged, they get angry. Who can forget how angry Christ became when he saw how God’s house of prayer was defiled and people mistreated by the moneychangers (John 2:13-17)? When injustice happens righteous people get angry. This is called righteous indignation. It happens because you were morally wronged. Now we have to be careful here. Jesus did not become angry over every little thing that hurt his feelings. He was only angered by serious wrongs toward God and toward his image. So we need to be sure that we have been wronged so seriously that anger is justified. But when we are, anger is the right way to respond. Only when we feel appropriate anger in the face of being morally wrong can it lead to forgiveness.
Righteous indignation is not retaliation or resentment. It is a moral protest that says, “This is wrong and I cannot over look it.” The protest does not necessarily change the other person, but it makes clear to the offender that someone has been wronged in a way that deserves a strong reaction. It is identifying with God’s moral law and you as his image
Two responses to being wronged (injustice):
One is righteous indignation (anger). The other is retaliation that can lead to bitterness and resentment. The latter is not the correct response because it can keep the cycle of wrong going. (Resentment will be dealt with in following articles).
Wrong responses to injustice:
If Jesus’ example shows us that there is a time for righteous anger, then what keeps us from it?
1. Many Christians have been taught that anger is always evil, rather than a God-given emotion to be used in the right way. But Scriptures encourage us this way: “Be angry, but do not sin”(Ephesians 4:25). So God approves. In fact, he commands us to be filled with righteous anger at certain times.
2. Other people condone the wrong that they have experienced. They see others that don’t become angry when they go through similar experiences and we lose our own moral bearings. “Maybe I’m making too much of this,” we say to ourselves. Many of these people were punished as children for a display of anger, so they decided not to have angry feelings because they displease people. But our reactions to being wronged must be determined by God’s word, not by what others think.
3. We want our relationships to be positive. Sometimes we want others to like and accept us so much that we don’t want to risk a negative reaction. So we deny the wrong and look the other way hoping the wrong behavior will simply go away if we are nice enough. But we are just “letting go of it” and recommit to the relationship. But, there is no growth, no healing, and no redemption.
4. We are conflict avoidant. All too often, we feel so uneasy when we face conflict that we hold back. We just don’t think we can deal with more conflict. But think again. It’s better to get it over with. Avoiding conflict usually causes righteous anger to fester into something that is not pleasing to God.
Right responses to being wronged:
Righteous indignation opens the opportunity for honesty, forgiveness, trust, and fulfilling intimacy.
- Honesty is the best policy. Any time there is conflict over a serious wrongdoing the only way to move forward is to be open and honest. It can be scary, but it’s the only thing that works. Honesty before God and honesty before the one who has wronged us makes it possible to move forward and not get stuck in the abuse cycle.
- Forgiveness addresses the problem. Forgiveness always involves at least three steps: 1. The act of acknowledging the wrong.
2. The decision not to return hurt for hurt.
3. The commitment seeking good for the one who has wronged you, and yourself.
- Moving on is a matter of trust. To move beyond honesty and forgiveness, we have to hand the situation over to God. We don’t say, “Step aside God, I can handle this.” After all who really has the power to make lasting change in our relationships?
One thing that forgiveness is not is the offender robotically saying “I’m sorry” over and over, without getting to the core of how the other person felt and empathically addressing the offense from a place of understanding. Nor is it the other person saying, “I forgive you,” without sensing that the other person legitimately is expressing remorse for the offense.
Forgiveness is acknowledging the wrong, addressing all the underlying feelings, and moving on towards the higher ground of forgiveness. Forgiveness has two levels: 1) the decision not to return hurt for hurt; 2) the action of trusting God that he means what he says. In my opinion forgiveness is a uniquely Christian response when we are wronged. I say this because forgiveness requires:
1. Respecting God’s moral law.
2. Purposely imitating Christ—Christ said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
3. Obeying Christ—the Lord’s Prayer commanded us to forgive, as we want to be forgiven by God.
4) Deliberately trusting God that he will not let sin go un-dealt with. God says all wrongs will be taken into account. Forgiveness is exercising and growing in trust. It is putting God in control not only of your life, but the life of the offender. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. Without forgiveness, both the victim and the offender are put in the hands of God’s judgment.
Forgiveness is GOOD FOR YOU:
As long as you hold onto anger it impedes your spiritual growth. Thus, forgiveness is not letting them off the hook. It is not saying, “Step aside God, I can handle this.” It is quite simply trusting and releasing us of a lifetime of our emotional and spiritual energy taken up with hatred and bitterness that eat away our lives. God said forgive because He knows it is good for you. It brings about deeper psychological and emotional peace so that we can get on with our lives, not be stuck in the past. It demonstrates our humility and trust.
Therefore, in the end, I am suggesting that you forgive, not because it is deserved, requested, or best for the other person—but because it is the best for you! It is because I want you to have a life worth living, and purely and simply trust what God says and who He is. He wants the best for you.
Trusting God and growing:
God knows that the best thing for you emotionally and spiritually is that you grow in grace.
On the phone the other day, one of my children commented that he was learning that trust was the foundation for all of the fruits of the spirit. If we don’t exercise faith, we cannot grow in love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Living with these not only grows us spiritually, we become more physically healthy people and live longer and with more freedom. God wants the best for His children. Trust in His word and His love for you.
Thus, the difference in righteous indignation and other responses is that it involves pleasing and trusting God. We do not dismiss injustice, because God did not. We deal with it so that it will make it possible for us to move forward and live in today rather than being stuck in the past.
(Some of these thoughts have sprung from comments of Mark Baker, a man from Los Angeles with whom I do consultation. Thank you Mark for challenging me to contemplate and expand my understanding of forgiveness and God’s wisdom. I hope it has deepened my wisdom and challenged me to be a more forgiving person.)
Parts I, II, and II can be found at /category/columns/relationships/letsgetreal.