Jesus was Triggered: Being Righteously Angry

When presented with the all-famous question of, “What would Jesus do?” my favorite reply is a reminder that flipping tables is a viable option. The story of Jesus clearing the temple of the people who used it to make a profit is actually told in all four gospels, and He did flip tables and call out those who turned the sacred place into a market. Yet whenever I gladly mention this, the best of my friends remind me that, “It doesn’t work that way.” Why not?

Anger is a powerful emotion, and it drives quite a variety of actions. It can be used to wound people, but can also be used for good. This emotion is something we are allowed to feel. Even the Bible instructs us to, “Be angry but do not sin…” (Ephesians 4:26). Feeling angry itself is not wrong; Jesus felt angry, and He is incapable of any sin.

Some injustices, such as abortion, are very public. It’s often easy to see the impact it has, and there are many opportunities available to be involved in making a change. Others – like bullying at your school, or the betrayal of your trust – might be more personal and difficult to understand. Sometimes we feel like we have to hide our anger about these things, instead of allowing ourselves to express it positively for the good of ourselves and others.

What makes anger right or wrong, then, lies in how we handle it. There are some important distinctions to make between anger being righteous and being self-serving, so let’s first take a look at what anger is not.

Righteous Anger is Not Hatred

Anger can be a hurtful emotion. If you hold onto it long enough, it does more damage to you than anyone else. It’s bitter, and it can taint everything you see about a person until it seems impossible to see the good. It can be easy to nurture the neutral feeling of anger into the sinful act of hatred. Sometimes hatred seems powerful while love seems weak; but when you face a choice between the two, loving when it’s not easy is the one that takes more strength. We’re told to love and, as difficult as it may be at times, Jesus gives us the grace to love others, but that has to start by not letting anger grow into hatred.

Righteous Anger is Not Revenge

There are times I would like nothing more than for someone who has done something unjust to feel the repercussions of their own actions. And there have even been times that I could have made them feel those repercussions more severely, had I sought to. But think of all that energy spent to make someone else hurt – and how would that be any better than what they have done to hurt me or my loved ones? It wouldn’t be.

When someone has hurt you, or someone close to you, you have a right to be upset — you have a right to be angry. You even have a right to wish for justice. But we were never made to take revenge when someone has hurt us.

When faced with the chance to take things into our own hands or to love whoever hurt us, loving once more is the better choice. And when we feel like we must do something, prayer is always a good choice. Tell God how you feel, turn it over to Him, and know that in the end, He is the ultimate Judge of every situation.

Righteous Anger is Not Condemnation

It’s a very interesting thing that even after driving the buyers and sellers out of the temple, Jesus never once publicly damned them to Hell. He certainly could’ve! He granted forgiveness and healed the blind; the Son of God has the authority to condemn as well, but He didn’t. He responded to His anger about what was happening, spoke the truth about it, and He stopped it. Even in His anger, He led with love.

From that moment forward, those in the temple had a decision to face: continue as they had, or change their ways for good. If they chose to change, there is no doubt Jesus would have mercy, forgive their past, and welcome them with loving arms. He would not hold them to that one moment or refuse them forgiveness. Yet this was a choice only they could make, and a choice Jesus would respect either way. We must remember that, even when we’re angry, even when we’re righteously angry, we do not have the authority to condemn, and instead recall that Jesus gives us all the gift of mercy over and over no matter how many times we fall.

Righteous Anger is a Gift

You can be thankful when you’re angry. When you’re hurting inside for someone or something, it seems that the last thing you’re thinking of is to be grateful for that feeling. The thing is, having a level of understanding to realize what is right and wrong, and further having the capacity to desire to set things right, takes wisdom. Hard as it may be to consider, whoever has caused this hurt might not even realize it; they might lack the ability to see how their actions affect others, or they might never have been taught how to make loving decisions.

Even when difficult, it’s a gift to be able to understand these things and feel a desire to make the situation right. Your feelings can be a motivation to make positive changes; if changes inspired by righteous anger are what God is calling you towards, it is indeed a gift, despite the sorrow and hurt.

Righteous Anger is Used for Good

Lastly, the point Jesus made in the Temple was to direct the matter back to the Father. Not acting on personal interest, He was seeking to return the temple to its purpose of praise, not profit. He asked, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:17). This action sums up much of what we’ve already seen in righteous anger, as the next logical step. When inspired by sorrow, and when we realize it is a gift to be aware of what hurts us or our loved ones or of what offends God, we naturally want to do what we can to help. While other peoples’ actions are not your responsibility, the situation can arise that allows you to change it into something fruitful – even if it is just loving the person who hurt you – and you can take it!

Inspired by the national March for Life in Washington DC, my cousin decided to take steps towards putting on a March for Life in her own home state. This will take a lot of planning into the future, with the goal of silently marching to the courthouse to show her lawmakers that people angry about ending the lives of unborn babies. This righteous anger about the laws that make abortion legal can be used not only in an effort to change those laws, but also to inspire others by taking that first step and inviting them to join in (a march is not put on by one person alone!). Sometimes, people support a cause but don’t initiate any action themselves; if you ever feel like the only person angry enough to stand for a change, take the risk because it’s likely that there are others who feel the same way but don’t do anything about it until you have the courage to begin.

In the end, remember that you are never alone in feeling anger – but the best thing you can do is to be aware of this emotion and how you are using it. You are never too young to use righteous anger for good if you allow it to encourage you to make a positive change. Instead of letting feelings bring you down, you can use them for the will of God!