19th Sunday after Pentecost. 21.9.08 Be angry and do not sin
‘Be angry and do not sin’ St Paul tells us. This tells us that anger is not always a sin. Let us explore further.
Anger is a frequent issue for Catholics. When is it alright to be angry, and how is it acceptable to express anger?
For divine inspiration we have the story of Our Lord’s cleansing of the Temple, and this reminds us that He was not always quiet and gentle.
On this occasion He was displaying a just anger; His anger was a righteous indignation at the lack of reverence being shown towards God.
He was not just ‘losing His temper’ over a trivial issue. There was justification for His position. It is right to be angry at evil; in fact it is a duty.
Anger, as such, is not a sin. It becomes a sin when it is unruly – either because there is insufficient ground for it, or its expression is excessive.
We speak of the anger of God; this is always a just anger.
God is angry with evil and with evildoers. This is not the same as being ‘mad with’ someone, wanting to pulverise them. God does not lose His temper.
His anger is perfectly balanced; it is something like a creditor calculating how much he is owed. It is the correction of an imbalance.
Here is a disorder; a correction is required.
God cannot abide disorder. He is perfect Himself and His creation is perfect. Disorder comes about through some kind of sin; God moves immediately to repair the damage and make all things well.
He deals differently with different people according to the situation.
So, He was obviously angry with the pharisees at various times when they tried to trap Him and obstructed His saving work.
God can be angry and merciful at the same time. People sometimes reason that because God does not immediately and obviously punish a certain sinful action then He must not mind what is happening.
But God’s anger can take different expressions. He notes the disorder, the imperfection and immediately goes to work to fix it.
How He does that will vary, but we know that He will be doing it.
There will sometimes be obvious punishment; sometimes a chance for a change of heart; sometimes punishment will be just letting nature take its course.
One factor in this is the disposition of the offender. A proud or defiant person is more likely to receive a direct punishment, because that may be the only way that God can get through to the person.
A humble person is more likely to receive a gentle response because he is already well on the way to correction (as with woman caught in adultery, or Prodigal Son)
We can learn from God’s anger how to deal with our own.
We sometimes get angry with the wrong things. We might be more angry because someone cuts us off in traffic than with abortion; more angry with some personal slight than with blasphemy.
What do we get worked up about? It should be the things that really matter, things that God Himself disapproves of.
And how should we express anger? Again, take the cue from God: gentle with the contrite; stronger with the obstinate; all the while never losing our own self-control.
We are seeking to restore order, the perfection of God’s order – not just our own opinion or whim, but an objective reality.
And, Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Our anger must not linger and fester, but be confined to the point, always seeking what is best for the other person.
A just anger only, and always tempered by mercy.
May the pure and just anger of God cleanse us from sin and keep us in His favour.