by Bishop Richard J. Sklba
I confess that I am both saddened and puzzled by the amount of anger in the air these days. It can be dangerous and even toxic if fueled by the wrong spirit. Even a simple civil mandate to wear protective masks can ignite furious protests and demonstrations for the TV cameras. Lethal murder by someone viciously driving an auto into a crowd in order to maim another person is not only wrong, but legally open to being labeled as a “hate crime” and subject to even more severe penalties. Earlier this summer, I wrote in these pages about the deep and, at least in my opinion, harmful divisions in our contemporary American society, with one mindset refusing to listen or even to speak to the other. This season’s pre-election campaigns have only increased the problem.
At the same time, I know that there is such a spiritual reality as righteous anger, namely a passion for what is deeply true and just in the face of selfish resistance and deliberate human short-sightedness or downright meanness. The Gospels tell us that Jesus became angry at times with a few of his fellow Pharisees who kept watching him for an excuse to condemn him as, for example, for healing a withered hand on the Sabbath. (Mark 3:5) The opponents simply refused to see the action of a saving/healing God, and chose only to see an infraction of one of the religious customs of the day … even though the same Jewish tradition would readily allow any work on the Sabbath which brought mercy to those in need and even freedom to animals. They suddenly found a reason to condemn Jesus, however, and promptly took advantage of the moment. Jesus was angry.
The author of the letter to the Ephesians, possibly a disciple of Paul, cautions against letting one’s anger become sinful (4:26) and advises that it should be removed from one’s spirit (v.31) as does the author of Colossians (3:8). Paul warned his volatile converts in Galatia that anger could be the fruit of the flesh (5:20) and lists its opposite among the true fruits of God’s Spirit.
Anger would seem justified when it is aimed at something blatantly and seriously contrary to the Will of God. We can and perhaps should become angry when the poor are mistreated or taken advantage of … or when blatant lies are knowingly passed on as true. Evil is evil … and it merits clear and strong opposition from a solidly formed conscience. There are some things in our world which should evoke our outrage and opposition … such as children starving due to the negligence of adults, the destruction of sacred places, the violation of the innocent, speaking untruth for self-serving purposes. Such actions offer a terrible example to our world. In such situations, anger could be the right thing.
When our anger, however, stems from mere self-pity or from a sense of deep genuine weariness, it can be nothing more than an emotional sop to our egoism. “Just get over it and move on,” our wisest friends would counsel with a grin.
This is the time of the year when youngsters all the way to young adults are usually preparing to return to their classrooms. Unfortunately, circumstances this year are problematic because of legitimate concerns for the health of all involved. That doesn’t absolve the rest of us from offering the good example of moral anger over the reality of injustice in our fragile world. We need to both teach and demonstrate how to deal with the world around us without simply picking fights.
A fellow airplane passenger once wisely spoke to me about the challenge of “doing the right thing for the right reason.” One might say something similar, namely the obligation of “getting angry at the things which even make God angry.” That’s also the moral training which our youngsters need and deserve during these days of staying home for the health of our world.