Summary: Anger is a detector of injustice, but, like God we should be slow in our response
Many of you were living the Washington area on Thursday, April 4th, 1968. I don’t need to really set the stage for it, because you lived it.
It was about 7:30 in the evening when Walter Cronkite broke the news. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis for speech, had been resting on the balcony of hotel, when an angry young man decided he had enough of that uppity pastor. Hiding out of sight, Earl Ray took his gun, and shot him.
Within hours, an angry Stokely Carmichael demanded that all business in DC should close out of respect. Shortly thereafter, even more angry young men decided that businesses not already closed should be closed permanently with fire. Chaos and pandemonium ensued as fires were set. Soon, most of the inner city was engulfed in flames. At one point, the flames reached within two blocks of the White House.
With the hindsight of nearly forty years, we can understand the passions on both sides. The injustices, the indignities that came to a head. But it doesn’t bring back 100 city blocks or repay nearly $27 million worth of property damage. It doesn’t bring back the 12 killed; it doesn’t heal all 1100 injuries. And the 6000 incarcerated that day are still shackled with the record of their pasts.
This morning, I want to suggest to you that Anger – like the anger that killed Rev. King, like the anger that burned D.C., is not a black and white issue. Racially, whites are as angry blacks. But even more directly, as much as we know that Anger is a sin, scripturally, it’s not that easy. It’s not black and white. Anger has both a good side and a dark one.
We easily recognize anger as sin – its even one of the Seven “Deadly Sins”. And yet, as we’ve already read, God himself gets angry. How can that be?
Understand that at its root, anger is a mechanism for detecting injustice. Anger is a natural response when you know what’s right, but see wrong. It’s a good holy passion. We are wired to want to see justice done and injustice stopped. It’s a natural passion.
But passions are hard to control, and injustices are all around us. Too often, we see that injustice is happening to us. But how we deal with the holy passion of anger is what dictates whether we see anger as a purifying fire, or a consuming one.
In Jonah’s case, he was angry, and God was angry. Both were angry at what they knew to be wrong.
Jonah, you’ll remember, had been sent to preach to Nineveh. It was a bad town that had much to repent of. Now, Jonah didn’t want to go.
Jonah knew that Nineveh had to pay for its badness, and he was looking forward to seeing the price. But God had other plans. Eventually, Jonah got where he was going and delivered the message. “Thirty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.” Short and to the point like a preacher should be – even if Jonah might have been a bit too giddy at delivering it.
Well, the people repented. And that’s when Jonah got angry. God had decided not to blow them out of the water. And so, Jonah and God decided to have some words.
“I knew it!” Jonah cried out. “You are a merciful God, you are slow to anger, but you abound in faithfulness and mercy!” I knew you’d forgive them. How dare you?
But God has a question back – one that I think is directed to us as much as to Jonah. “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Well, is it right for us to hate injustice? Yes. But is it right to be angry? Well, again, it depends on how you handle it. Remember God may be slow to anger – but he got angry. Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t escape. Noah’s world felt his anger, and one of these days, our whole planet is going to feel it again.
The key difference I want to point out between Jonah, and God, is why they got angry and how they got angry. Jonah was angry because of the injustice against whom? Himself. God gets angry for better reasons.
When I get angry, I tend to have it out and be done with it. And then, I just end up paying for it. Slowly gives me time to pause and reflect on the validity of my anger. Slow is good.
So, from our text this morning, I’d like to suggest just one thing to you this morning. When it comes to anger, you must be slow. Be Angry! But be slow about it.
And because slowness is what I want you to hear, I’m even going to succumb to the temptation of being cutesy, and ask you to remember SLOW as an acrostic.