“And the Lord said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” ~ Jonah 4:4
Seriously, aren’t some things in this world/life absolutely MADDENING!? For instance, the other night I just stayed up to the wee hours of the morning to watch the Wisconsin Badgers lose their sweet 16 March Madness basketball game at the very last second. I grew in Madison, WI and I was back and forth from elation to total irritation the whole game. The end seemed almost unfair and wrong. Also, the defense was terrible! I felt like I could see the sequence of events unfolding from a mile away and then as the shot went up it seemed almost destined to go in. As the shot sunk I was sunk right along with the rest of Wisconsin’s team. I couldn’t believe it. How disheartening to watch! Much of the game was frustrating, and on top of that I had to contain any sort of outburst throughout as my wife and two kids were already in bed for the night. Side-note… It’s rather funny to me too how our dog will tuck her tail between legs and walk around ever so nervously when she can tell I am frustrated with a sporting event.
Anyway, so in some ways, this is a very poor example of something maddening in this world. It’s more what some call a first world problem, or not even as many people couldn’t care less about sports. This is similar to technology infuriating you because you suddenly lose something you were working on or it’s being abnormally slow. There are definitely extremely worse problems in the world like human trafficking, abuse, murder, steeling, terrorism, oppression of the poor, racism, etc. And I don’t even want to talk about politics.
Many things are disheartening and leave one maddened. Anger, though, presents some struggles for me. I don’t like anger, and a lot of bad things can happen because of our responses to it. As a child anger seemed to always equal terrible things. I can even remember specifically concentrating on learning how to control my own anger growing up because I didn’t like many of the results of it in my own home.
And another thing, isn’t anger a sin? And that brings me to the actual point of this post. Being March Madness season and all, it seems rather appropriate to write about my own anger of the last few years during my wilderness journey.
Writing about this is tough for me though. In fact, I’ve had a hard time putting words to paper over the past couple week (hence why this post is later than usual). I am scared to talk about it and nervous. Also, at times I feel as though I am making a colossal confession about myself that is heinously wrong. I’ve gotten really self-conscious about it.
It’s possible some of you might think this is silly. Maybe some of you have even seen or had better responses to anger than have been mentioned. See, really, I don’t think all anger is actually sinful. Anger can actually lead to good things as in response to it we might choose to act in such a way to help a certain injustice. Also, say we just choose to harbor all of our anger within. That can eat away at us or leave us as like a ticking time-bomb about to explode. Even the Bible actually says in Ephesians 4:26 to literally “Be angry but do not sin.” Here anger is an acceptable emotion, not inherently sinful. Sin is dependent upon how we act in response.
What about anger in a different light though? And here comes the kicker at least for me in terms of this post. The thing I’ve been the most nervous and self-conscious about admitting here is that I have been angry with God! And when I say angry, I mean intensely. I’ve been downright peeved, irritated, and annoyed! This is probably less of a secret than it seems for me to share as I imagines it’s been rather noticeable by some, but now I want to go hide myself underneath a rock. Or at least I feel as though major repentance is in order! This hasn’t been by any means constant, but I can definitely say I can sympathize with Jonah and his anger and disheartenment towards God who I mention at the beginning of this post.
Most of us remember Jonah as the common childhood story character who was swallowed alive by a huge fish and then later spit back out onto dry land. Jonah disobeyed God and actually ran away from him in the very opposite direction. Often the story is told to tell of him recommitting himself and then following through with what he was told to do in the beginning. And he lived happily ever after. WRONG! For many people the story ends with chapter 3 and Jonah’s remaining anger and resentment go unnoticed, overlooked, and/or embarrassingly forgotten.
Anger as I’ve already said though is troubling. I think we can be comfortable not noticing or avoiding it in the story and therefore also in ourselves. God always wants to cut right to our hearts within us in everything, and Jonah has a glaringly bleeding wound within his that God doesn’t want to go unnoticed and left untouched.
So let’s look at this question God asks Jonah—“Is it right for you to be angry?” The easy answer seems to be ‘No’, I mean, isn’t this what God is ultimately getting at? Well, I think that’s too easy of an answer. Think about this with me for a moment. Isn’t Jonah somewhat justified in his anger toward the people of Nineveh and their behavior? Isn’t it just and right for people to get what they deserve in this life? Aren’t we supposed to be alarmed, appalled, maddened toward sin in this life, and also ourselves? Romans 12:9 tells us to “Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” God doesn’t always operate though within the construct of right and wrong, punishment and reward, etc.
What can we then take away from this story and Jonah’s anger, even anger toward God, and also our own? One, and I imagine this is controversial, our anger is ok in and of itself. What’s sinful is our action(s) in response to it within us. In terms of anger towards God, we are encouraged, even told in the bible to grieve, mourn, and wail while in prayer toward God so many times. Also, so many people throughout Scripture lament and rail against injustice and utterly horrid things experienced in their lives. God wants us to lay our hearts out before him, whatever the state of them, beyond all our understanding, disappointment, sadness, and rage and trust him to make everything right once again (see Prov. 3:5-6).
Secondly, let’s take to heart God’s response shown throughout Scripture as his people cry, mourn, and wail before him. God doesn’t condemn. He often doesn’t punish. He may respond strongly and sternly as with Job starting at chapter 38 of his story. He also may respond in sheer, disheartening silence. But I can’t think of one example where God is not just as who Jonah says he is from his very own lips and heart—“For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing (Jonah 4:2).”
As I write this I am reminded of an experience in my own life with me and my daughter. 3 years ago right around this time I had tell my daughter we had to move once again. We had hardly gotten settled in our new town just a year earlier. She was already torn away once from a home and friends she was in the middle of fostering relationships with and now about to be hit with this devastating reality once again. “WHY! THIS ISN’T FAIR! NOT AGAIN!” must have railed within her only 4-year-old heart.
As I told her standing beside my wife in our bedroom, she in a split second turned and ran out of the room, down the hallway, and collapsed to her knees on the living room floor. I followed just behind and collapsed to my knees beside her and said the very first words that came from my heart—“Its ok for you to be angry.” And we knelt together in silence, and I can’t remember if I cried, but I am right now as I type this out.
Brothers and sisters, as I am reminded of words from a song I know based on Hosea 6:1-3, “Let us press on to know Him, let us press hard into Him, then as surely as the coming of the dawn He will respond!” (If you’d like, listen to the whole song by recording artists Shane & Shane here)
O Lord, as with the people of Nineveh, Job too, and even possibly, hopefully Jonah himself as well… I turn to you in this here Lenten season, in light of your steadfast love and mercy, and sit and repent in dust and ashes!
Therefore brothers and sisters, in view God’s mercy, let us offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” ~ Romans 12:1