When was the last time you got good and angry? Be careful how you answer because I want you to notice that important conjunction AND. So maybe I should ask the question this way: when was the last time you got angry and were still good?
Aristotle correctly pointed out, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
Over the past week, I’ve been studying the life and leadership of Nehemiah, an incredible leader who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. But when I got to the final chapter of his account, I noticed quite a bit of anger coming from Nehemiah. As a kid, I used to have to really battle against my temper, so this aspect of Nehemiah’s life intrigued me. Can someone be good AND angry?
I think that the deeper I love someone or something, the greater my anger will be towards anyone or anything that violates what I love.
Nehemiah loved God and he was passionate to see God’s holiness magnified. All of his anger is directed at those people or things that violated or detracted from God’s holiness. Look how he got good AND angry—
- Towards Tobiah, who moved his personal belongings into God’s temple, a place reserved exclusively for the worship of God. “I was angry, really angry, and threw everything in the room out into the street, all of Tobiah’s stuff” (v. 8).
- Towards the people who stopped financially supporting the priests, forcing the priests to leave the temple and work as farmers. “I immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, ‘Why has the Temple of God been neglected?’” (v. 11).
- Towards those who violated the regulations of the Sabbath Day. “I got angry and said to the leaders of Judah, ‘This evil you are doing is an insult to the Sabbath!’” (v. 17).
- Towards those tried to get around Nehemiah’s new Sabbath Day regulations. “I spoke sharply to them and said, ‘What are you doing out here, camping around the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you!’” (v. 21).
- Towards those who had intermarried with false-god-worshipping people. “I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair” (v. 25).
- Towards Joiada, a priest who married a non-God-fearing woman. “I banished him from my presence” (v. 28).
After each of these incidents, you might expect Nehemiah to regret what he had done and think to himself, “Perhaps I overdid it. Maybe I was too zealous, or maybe I went a little overboard.” But instead, each time Nehemiah was righteously angry he prayed this to God, “Remember me for this, O my God. Remember me with favor because of what I have done” (vv. 14, 22, 29, 31). He was unashamed that he got good AND angry.
The Bible says, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry.”
Can you be good AND angry? Yes! In fact, I think being good helps us be angry with the right person or thing, in the right way, for the right purpose, and for the right length of time.