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Anger (Part 2)
Last week I raised the issue of anger, and whether it is ever appropriate. The Greek is in Eph 4:26 where Paul writes, ὀργίζεσθε καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε.
ὀργίζεσθε is, I think, clearly an imperative, although techniclly it could be an indicative. We are told to get angry. The other side of the coin, and a necessary side — have you ever seen a coin with only one side? — is that anger is to be balanced with not sinning.
How do you not sin? “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and (μηδὲ) do not give the devil a foothold (δίδοτε τόπον τῷ διαβόλῳ)” (v 27, NIV). We don’t allow the anger to move to sin by not giving it a sustained presence in our life; we deal with the situation that has caused us anger, by sunset. And when we do this, we are not letting Satan have a toehold in our life. To continue to live in anger is, in fact, giving Satan a toehold in our life, and he will most certainly use that position to launch a full offensive into our heart.
I struggle a bit with the translation of μηδὲ. When someone translates with “and” (e.g., HCSB), it gives the impression that the two verses are not connected. BDAG gives two meanings to . (1) “and not, but not, nor continuing a preceding negation.” (2). not even. “But not” is certainly a better translation as it keeps the two thoughts together. The NKJV’s use of “nor” is pretty good. NET starts a new sentence, and that is surely the weakest translation. The NLT is typically periphrastic, but does a wonderful job getting at the meaning: “Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.” So also the NJB: “never let the sun set on your anger or else you will give the devil a foothold.”
So what do you think of all this? I have been mulling this all week. The position that makes ὀργίζεσθε some sort of conditional indicative doesn’t have the grammatical backing to do so. Wallace has a conditional use of the indicative, but that is when the verb is in the protasis of a conditional sentence.
There is no way around this. There are some situations in which anger is the right and only response, but the limitations the context places on the imperative is what keeps the response measured and appropriate. I have often wondered if Jesus was angry. We think of the cleaning of the temple, but the text never says he was angry. In fact, the only time that ὀργή is used of Jesus is in Mark 3:5 where it describes his response to the Pharisees’ desire to catch him healing on the sabbath. “He looked around at them in anger (μετ᾿ ὀργῆς) and, deeply distressed (συλλυπέω) at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand” (NIV). Now interestingly, συλλυπέω means, “be grieved with, feel sympathy” (BDAG). Interesting; Jesus holds anger and sympathy hand-in-hand. Maybe there is a clue here to our theology of anger.
The other clue is that anger is a common theme in the Bible, but is primarily connected to God’s wrath and final judgment. In my dictionary, I say this about God’s anger. “More often, however, orgē signifies God’s indignation directed at wrongdoing (e.g., Rom. 1:18). When God cut off a generation from entering the Promised Land, it was an oath he made “in wrath” (Heb. 3:11; 4:3). Paul equates God’s wrath with his vengeance, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). Paul speaks of those who heap up their sins, saying that “the wrath of God has come upon them at last” (1 Thess. 2:16; cf. Rom. 1:18). Governing authorities are temporal conduits of divine retribution (Rom. 13:1). “The wrath of God” remains on those who do not believe in the Son (Jn. 3:36). Paul writes that “God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient” (Eph. 5:6; cf. Col. 3:6). God “stores up his wrath” for those who are unrepentant and saves it for a “day of wrath,” when it will be visited on the same (Rom. 2:5). But Christians are not destined for such an end, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).”
Yet another clue is the admonition in the New Testament that believers not to be given to anger (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Tim. 2:8). So another helpful verse supporting the imperative of Eph 4:26 is Jam 1:19; “Understand this, my dear brothers: everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (ESV). We are to become angry slowly, and relinquish it quickly.
There is much more that could be said, but this is enough to convince me that the imperative in Eph 4:26 means what is says. Hoehner has this to say, and it is helpful. “When God is angry, he is always in control of his anger. Unlike God, however, people have a tendency to allow anger to control them…. A believer who is controlled by the Spirit is angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. For example, when someone in the body of believers has been wronged, it is correct for one to be angry but not to be consumed by that anger” (page 621).
I remember a few years ago talking with a counselor friend named Rich. He insisted that anger, as an emotion, is neutral. It is neither inherently good or bad. It is what it is; our reaction to evil. The value judgment comes into play when we act, or do not act, on the event causing the anger. I disagreed with him, being a good Christian boy raised in a good Christian home attending good Christian churches. But Rich, you were right and I was wrong.
The fact of the matter is that when faced with evil, it should illicit anger. It did for Jesus. It does for God. We will see it in all its fury at judgment. But as Hoehner says, it must be at the right time in the right way, with anger never controlling us.
I just finished reading Smedes masterful book, “The Art of Forgiving.” One of the points he makes is that we must become angry. If we are sinned against (and let’s assume it is a serious, heinous sin), we can never forgive until we have clearly articulated what that sin was. If we downplay it, pretend it didn’t happen — in other words, compartmentalize the evil and pretend everything is okay — we will never be able to forgive. So even in forgiveness, anger is a necessary ingredient. But that is actually what Paul says, isn’t it?
ὀργίζεσθε is an imperative.