If you ever wonder if your anger over the state of the world is too much, I’ve been there too.
Hi. My name is David, and one of the things about me is that I’m a standup comedian. I love laughing and making people laugh. Seeing and hearing the joy in people makes me come alive. One of my best jokes is about someone offering me the secret to greatness.
The setup of the joke is that someone told me that the secret is, “You have to be aware that you could die at any moment.” The punchline is my answer, “I’m a black man who watches the news. I’m already aware that I could die at any moment.”
It’s a dark joke that makes people uncomfortable, but it nearly always gets a laugh. It’s also a joke that has many layers. One of the layers that most people don’t see in it is the anger that I hide.
Yes. I am an angry man. To those who have only encountered me when I’m light and jovial—that might come as a shock. But those who really know me know that’s a true statement. When I was younger and far less mature, that anger would manifest in outbursts over petty things when I had too much to drink. As I’ve matured, the outbursts have subsided, but the anger has remained. I’d even say it has matured.
Describing myself as angry will probably make you want to stay away from me. And maybe rightfully so. Anger, for most people, is something that makes us uncomfortable. It can trigger traumatic memories and fear, because, for many, it’s resulted in violence either physically or emotionally. So I don’t blame you for being put off.
I used to pray for a long time that God would make me less angry. That never happened. But God did begin to teach me to be angry about the right things. The chief area God has taught me to be angry is towards injustice and the devaluing of people.
When God created humanity, He put his image on us, which inscribed immeasurable worth forever into who we are. All people—all colors—are profoundly glowing with the image of God himself. So when that image, His people, are mistreated in any way, it’s a formidable disgrace. The reason I can’t stop getting angry about those things is that I believe God is angry about them too.
Our country is far too regularly hit with waves of unfathomably, ridiculous, horrifically unnecessary violence and injustice. Black men getting shot in their own home eating ice cream or killed for nonviolent traffic violations and even while going for a jog. White people rarely receiving any consequences for crimes that would put a black person away for life. Injustice and devaluing of people abound.
As we all start to get uncomfortable, I’m sure you’re asking where God plays into this. Shouldn’t I be more forgiving? Shouldn’t I choose to focus on something happier? Why are you sitting in your anger, David? Aren’t you a Christian?
To that, I would say, I’m angry because I’m a Christian.
People don’t like talking about God’s anger. Well, unless if you’re divorced, gay, like a vice you shouldn’t, or are having sex before marriage—then it’s talked about freely. But I’ve come to understand God’s anger a bit differently.
A good, loving Father would be angry if he saw his children being bullied, exploited, and abused. He wouldn’t be able to sleep if He knew that was happening. When I was a child, my own father once went on a warpath when he found out that a teacher had beat me in front of my peers for the sole purpose of displaying her power and embarrassing me. I had been mistreated, and because my father loves me, he took action.
I believe God saved us because of his love, but I also believe He hated the state of humanity so much he became a man to stop it. I believe that God is angry at racism, kids being sold into sex slavery, women being preyed on at college campuses, that depression you feel stuck in, and more. He was willing to painfully, publicly die rather than let that be our only option.
If hearing God referenced as angry messes with your theology or makes you uncomfortable, let’s look at some passages. Yes, there are many verses about being slow to anger, keeping our anger in check, and not letting it lead us into sin (James 1:19-20). Of course, forgiveness is undeniably embedded into the story of God. But surprisingly, so is anger.
- God’s anger when people choose sin is a constant theme in the Old Testament, although it’s not the vengeful tyrant picture most paint. Joseph Scheumann says, “God’s wrath is his love in action against sin.”
- David, described as a man after God’s own heart, was unapologetic about his anger at injustice when he prayed in the Psalms, “God, I wish you would kill the wicked.”
- Jesus was famously angry at the Pharisees (people who abused their religious prestige and positional privilege in society) twice. First, when they preferred to leave people in pain, choosing the rules over a chance to heal someone. And then again, when they tried to profit off of people coming to the temple to seek God.
The emotion itself is not a problem for God. The most famous verse on anger says, “in your anger, do not sin.” Meaning sin and anger are not synonymous. It’s what we do with our anger that distinguishes it. It can be something that leads only to bitterness and destruction, or it can become righteous anger that leads us to be a part of repairing an injustice or restoring a loss.
God’s anger is good because he is angry about the right things and does something about it.
I’m very aware that I can die at any moment. It makes for a funny joke, but it really does make me angry, and I believe God is with me in that. I believe He grieves it deeply, and it compels him to respond. I said earlier that God has matured my anger. What I mean is that God has matured how I use it. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, it can actually be a kindness.
Clarification: please don’t mistake kindness for “being nice.” I’ll never be nice about the things that make me angry. Niceness passively moves on to keep the (false) peace. Niceness pretends and looks away.
True kindness gets engaged in a solution. True kindness looks someone in the eye, steps across the aisle, tries to understand, and pursues finding a remedy even at a cost to themselves. True kindness looks like Jesus leaving heaven to come to earth and model the type of sacrificial love that is meant to mark humanity.
Kindness is a weapon—a very effective one, my friends. To me, it is a sword to cut through the darkness. It helps me cut through the darkness of racism by being friends with people who are different than me. It’s the weapon wielded by many who give time and money to rescue girls from the rape-for-profit industry or take care of orphans and more.
Jesus wasn’t a nice guy, but he was deeply kind. He never cozied up to anyone or anything that led people into suffering. He used his righteous anger to fight for people who were being oppressed, forgotten, and judged. He was kind enough to die for those people. God hasn’t taken away my anger, but he has given me an effective weapon to fight the things that make me angry. Sometimes that looks like making people laugh. Sometimes it compels me to put a message like this out there even though I know it will come at a risk of being misunderstood, criticized, and labeled.
So yeah, I believe God has room for my anger. He has room for yours, too. The violence and injustice around us are worthy of anger. And because He is good, he can let that anger become a weapon to bring more good. When tragedy or injustice strikes, let yourself feel the anger. Don’t suppress it, ignore it, or turn the other way. Don’t dwell in it and get lost in bitterness or despair, either. Let it connect you to the heart of God, and let’s channel it towards something good.
Happy birthday, Ahmaud Arbery. Rest In Power.