Anger Lite: Being Annoyed but without Sin
Please excuse me for taking a few days away from B. B. Warfield’s theological essay, The Emotional Life of Our Lord. The long holiday weekend threw my schedule off a bit and I was not able to spend as much time as I had hoped on the arduous task of distilling Warfield’s major section on the anger of Jesus into a digestible form. I do hope to accomplish this throughout the remainder of the week and appreciate your patience.
Today, let’s think about that which I would like to refer to as Anger Lite, what Warfield calls “a much lighter form of the emotion of [Jesus’s] anger,” which falls significantly short of rage. Mark 10:13-14 records the following example for us: And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” This expression of anger, being “moved with indignation,” is also mentioned in Luke 18:15. “The term employed,” writes Warfield, “expresses, originally, physical (such, for example, as is felt by a teething child), and then mental…‘irritation.’ Jesus was ‘irritated,’ or perhaps we may better render, was ‘annoyed,’ ‘vexed’ at his disciples. And (so the term also suggests) he showed his annoyance,–whether by gesture or tone or the mere shortness of his speech: ‘Let the children come to me; forbid them not!’ Thus we see Jesus as he reacts with anger at the spectacle of inhumanity, so reacting with irritation at the spectacle of blundering misunderstanding, however well-meant.”
As I think about Jesus being irritated by what Warfield calls a human being’s “blundering misunderstanding” of the divine agenda I am left talking to myself, asking questions like these:
How did Jesus experience irritation and yet not succumb to the temptation to sin against those with whom He was annoyed (Heb 4:15)? The answer lies in two words, righteousness and love. When Jesus was annoyed at His disciples it was because He had made a perfectly righteous judgment of their heart as well as their reaction to their current situation. Having made a perfectly righteous judgment, which is totally His prerogative (Jn 5:22), He then reacted in a manner that was in the disciples’ best interest. He rebuked them, yes, but did so in order to instruct them and correct their misunderstanding of His higher, kingdom agenda.
Is it right, then, for me to be annoyed? And if so when? Let us remember that Jesus is fully like us in His humanity, but we are not fully like him, for He is full deity in bodily form (Col 2:9). Therefore, is it even possible for me to be irritated and yet not sin? Yes, it seems that it is, but it will be difficult and will require Spirit-empowered self-control and love. The keys lay in my judgment and reaction to the irritation and its human cause. By being annoyed by another’s immaturity, selfishness, or ignorant but well-meant “spectacle of inhumanity,” I have immediately made a moral judgment (see a previous post) and must now choose how I will react to that moral judgment. So to answer the question, “Is it right for me to be annoyed?” I must first answer two others:
- Is the moral judgment I have made accurate? Am I judging “righteous judgment” as Jesus commanded (Matt 7:24), or am I just easily annoyed by someone because they don’t serve my self interests? If I do not pass this test favorably then my irritation is unjustifiable. I need go no further in my assessment, but should instead confess that to the Lord.
- But if I have determined my moral judgment is righteous, based on the righteous Word of God (Ps 19:9), then I must ask, “Is my reaction to my moral judgment righteous? Is my reaction a self-controlled expression of love carried out in the other person’s best interest? Is my reaction producing helpful, edifying words or, have I determined that my moral judgment makes me superior to them and, therefore, feel justified in tearing the other person down through verbal or non-verbal communication?
Certainly it is possible for us as sinners to make righteous moral judgments (if that judgment is based on the righteous revelation of our righteous God) and yet sin in our reaction to that judgment. For example, if one of our older children becomes annoyed by the simple presence (not sin) of one of our young ones and seeks to put him or her out of everyone’s way, I may become irritated. By doing so I have made what I believe is a righteous moral judgment. However, if I then react by verbally lambasting my older child with harsh, angry, destructive words then I have sinned no matter how righteous my moral judgment has been (Eph 4:29). But if, instead of reacting in sinful anger, I gently and humbly admonish him to think, speak, and act like Christ and direct him toward gospel-implications then I have handled my irritation in a righteous—even helpful—manner.
Is it acceptable for me to be an irritable man? No, I don’t believe this occasion of Jesus being annoyed with his disciples is justification for a state of low-grade anger. Low-grade anger (what I like to call “crock-pot anger”) is always there, warming, below the surface, leaving us irritable. Often this state results from the deep hatred of a person, which is usually the fruit of a bitter, unforgiving spirit, or unresolved conflict (Eph 4:26-27). Jesus’s anger was not “always there,” below the surface and ready to explode. It was always under the control of reasoned judgment and others-focused love. Indeed, when annoyed, He was the perfect embodiment of being long-suffering and “slow to anger” (James 1:19). His “light anger” moved him to correct His disciples, but not to remain in a state of being angry with them.
How do I—a depraved sinner—handle being annoyed by someone, yet not sin against them either in my judgment or my reaction to that judgment? Jesus, the sinless Son of God, did not sin against his disciples when he, in irritation, rebuked them. His gesture, tone of voice, or shortness of speech, though revealing his anger, did not violate the law of love which now governs us (Jn 13:34). Therefore, I must begin to renew my mind with truths like these, though there are many more that we may perhaps consider at a later date.
- Love for others must triumph over my fear of them or how they will react to correction (1 Jn 4:18).
- Love for others will compel me to pray for them, whether friend or enemy (Matt 5:44).
- Love for others will cause me to react in a way that is helpful to them, not merely relieving (we often call this ‘venting’) to me (Rom 13:10; 1 Cor 8:1).
- Love for others will cause me not to be easily provoked (1 Cor 13:5).
- Love for others will cause me to first think the best of them, not the worst (1 Cor 13:7).
- Love for others will “cover a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8) and, therefore, will stop my anger from becoming a state of irritability.
Tomorrow, we will consider a far more vehement expression of anger in Jesus.