“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him.” (Isaiah 57:18–19)
In spite of the severity of man’s disease of rebellion and willfulness, God will heal. How will he heal? Isaiah 57:15 says that God dwells with the crushed and humble. Yet the people of Isaiah 57:17 are not humble. They are brazenly pursuing their own proud way. So, what will a healing be?
It can only be one thing. God will heal them by humbling them. He will cure the patient by crushing his pride. If only the crushed and humble enjoy God’s fellowship (Isaiah 57:15), and if Israel’s sickness is a proud and willful rebellion (Isaiah 57:17), and if God promises to heal them (Isaiah 57:18), then his healing must be humbling and his cure must be a crushed spirit.
Isn’t this Isaiah’s way of prophesying what Jeremiah called the new covenant and the gift of a new heart? He said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33).
Isaiah and Jeremiah both see a time coming when a sick, disobedient, hard-hearted people will be supernaturally changed. Isaiah speaks of healing. Jeremiah speaks of writing the law on their hearts. And Ezekiel puts it like this: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26)
So the healing of Isaiah 57:18 is a major heart transplant — the old hardened, proud, willful heart of stone is taken out, and a new soft, tender heart is put in, which is easily humbled and crushed by the memory of sin and the sin that remains.
This is a heart that the lofty One whose name is Holy will dwell with forever.
A couple weeks ago, I arrived at my son’s soccer game only to find my wife soaking wet in the pouring rain! I told her just that morning the oversized golf umbrella was in the back of the Subaru under the floor. I thought she would be cozy and dry underneath when I arrived, but she didn’t even have it on her person! What had happened?
It was a simple communication issue between us. When I said the umbrella was in the back under the floor, she thought I meant in the back seat. But when she looked there, it was nowhere to be found. What she didn’t know is that there are hidden compartments under the floor of the trunk. The umbrella was laying, perfectly dry, in that hidden compartment. What was the problem? A lack of understanding leading to a lack of application.
What if the church of America has suffered a lack of understanding leading to a lack of application? At the end of the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus made it clear that our mission is to go and make disciples. But we cannot miss the fact that He also made crystal clear that this commission stems from Jesus having all authority in heaven and on earth. And as we are going—making disciples along the way—Jesus promises He is with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).
When we are making disciples, the first step of course is to help those who don’t believe come to place their faith in Christ. But, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And if we understand that Jesus’ saving work includes giving us life, providing forgiveness, defeating the rulers and authorities (Colossians 2:13-15) and that the Father has transferred us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son He loves (Colossians 1:13), then we understand Paul’s conclusion in Ephesians 6:12 where he states that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.”
We must understand that, because we are in Christ and Christ is in us, we have authority as we submit to God. This authority is in order to resist the devil (James 4:7), stand firm (Eph 6:11-13) and serve as Christ’s ambassadors “since God is making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20, also Eph 6:20).
Just as an earthly ambassador only serves as they are submitted to the authority of their nation, so too, we only have authority as we submit to Jesus and continue to place ourselves under the umbrella of His power and protection. This is not a concept to be fearful of, nor to abuse, but to understand and apply.
The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:20)
Our world, including our Christian circles, gives us opportunities galore for anger. It’s not as though provocations lie on only one side of the theological, political, or cultural divides. Bob Dylan was right: “Everything is broken.” No wonder, then, that a whole lot can light the fuse of our anger.
Our nation is angry these days — more than I’ve ever seen before. I remember 1968, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the riots in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Our nation was writhing in anguish and rage. 2020 seems worse, for multiple reasons too obvious to mention.
We have our personal reasons for anger too. I don’t mean just fighting traffic or settling an argument between the kids. I mean horrible experiences, with permanently life-altering repercussions. And we never “just get over it.” Who of us skates through this life without being betrayed, shamed, lied about — for starters? Some days it can be hard to get out of bed and face the day. A low-grade fever of churning anger can leave us exhausted.
Life Without Anger
But what if we never got angry? What would that say about us? What if we could see Jesus trivialized, the gospel denied, people oppressed, women degraded, children abused, lies popularized, injustice strengthened, and so forth — what if we looked at all that and felt nothing? How dead would we be inside?
“The right kind of anger is not hotheaded, not impulsive, not screaming rage, but careful and thoughtful.”TweetShare on Facebook
Anger is a judging emotion. It is a deeply felt response to wrong. No surprise, then, that God gets angry (Nahum 1:2). And Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5). And as we follow him, we will get angry too.
But unlike our Lord, when we get angry, we can corrupt it. We can complicate our anger with selfishness, wounded pride, impatience, lust for revenge, plus a lot more — and without even realizing it. But surely we can all agree on this: our anger can be good, and it can be bad, and it can even mingle good and bad together. So, we must weigh our anger carefully (and continue to weigh it throughout our lives).
Be Angry and Silent
As I try to navigate the crosscurrents of my own anger, a number of verses have helped guide me.
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. (Psalm 4:4)
I don’t think David is commanding us to get riled up. (Do we need to be told?) He is allowing anger for good reasons and dignifying legitimate anger. But he is also calling us to examine ourselves. The wise are self-aware enough to filter out the bad feelings mixed into their anger before they let it out. But “a fool gives full vent to his spirit” (Proverbs 29:11).
See how Psalm 4:4 calls us to restraint? The “be angry” at the beginning is matched by “be silent” at the end, with “do not sin” and “ponder” in between. It’s a total package. The right kind of anger is not hotheaded, not impulsive, not screaming rage, but careful and thoughtful. Wise anger is calmly deliberate. Derek Kidner makes it practical: “Sleep on it before you act” (Psalms 1–72, 73). Or before you tweet.
What Makes Anger Christian
Then, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul quotes Psalm 4:4, offering further guidance:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26–27)
Surprisingly, only a few verses later, he also writes, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Ephesians 4:31). So, there are two different kinds of anger: the anger that is truly Christian and helps others, and the anger that just fumes and rages and points the finger and scolds. Christian indignation feels grief when it encounters anything that denies Christ or degrades people. This Christian anger is set apart from selfish fury in at least three ways.
ANGER WITHOUT SIN
First, “Be angry and do not sin.” Christian anger does not indulge in sin to make its point and get what it wants. So, let’s be honest with ourselves. When we’re upset, what’s really going on inside? Are we filled with the blessed power of the Holy Spirit, or are we driven by the negative energy of self-assertion? And if we don’t even want to face these diagnostics, the answer is obvious. That’s when we need to stop whatever we’re doing, humble ourselves before the Lord, calm down, and not sin.
William Edgar, in his amazing essay “Justification and Violence,” helps us see how our moral fervor can morph into our own grotesque ritual atonement, a counterfeit Calvary, where we make someone else pay, with their blood, for our own self-hatred and shame. Elizabeth O’Connor explains, “What we repress in ourselves, we will project onto the neighbor and try to destroy there.” That kind of anger is sinful — very sinful, and very common.
But Christian anger doesn’t create victims. It gathers allies, for God’s glory. It reasons with others, giving them an opportunity to respond well. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes, “Be kind to one another.” That word kind says more than “Be nice to one another.” The word Paul uses here is the same word our Lord uses when he says, “My yoke is easy” (Matthew 11:30). To be kind, therefore, is to make a situation as easy as it can be for others. Kindness asks, “As I state my case, how can I make a positive response as easy as possible?” Foolish anger doesn’t think that way. It doesn’t even attempt to bring healing. Foolish anger just explodes. Christian anger, on the other hand, cares enough to stop and think, rather than add a sinful response to an already sinful situation.
ANGER WITHOUT GRUDGES
Second, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Selfish anger thinks, “Let them stew in their misery for a while! Serves them right.” Selfish anger relishes the offender’s ongoing sufferings. But Christian anger doesn’t hold out, doesn’t nurse a grudge, doesn’t let a relational wound fester over time.
When we’re open to Jesus, a new sensitivity enters our hearts. For example, if this week we remember that a brother or sister has something against us, and we see Sunday coming, then we know what to do: “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” in worship at church (Matthew 5:24). Jesus said, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser” (Matthew 5:25). I wonder if this is the command we most often disobey.
We can let the sun go down on our anger day after day, week after week, year after year. We risk losing any opportunity for reconciliation, and we risk settling into our own hypocrisy before God. But Christian anger is eager to restore peace.
ANGER WITHOUT IGNORANCE
Lastly, “give no opportunity to the devil.” Christian anger knows the devil’s strategies and is determined to obey the Lord at any cost rather than serve the devil. But oblivious anger stomps on the devil’s land mines: lies, spin, slander, false accusations, lust for controversy, tribal superiority, church splits, and even outright violence. The devil loves hanging out with angry people. I suppose, for him, it’s funny how they keep falling for his same old tricks.
“Christian indignation feels grief when it encounters anything that denies Christ or degrades people.”TweetShare on Facebook
This is why I don’t trust my anger. And I don’t trust yours. If you come recruiting me for your cause, and your appeal is, “Look how wrong they are! We’ve got to do something!” — well, they might be wrong. They might be worse than you think. But I keep remembering the words of Paul Rees from years ago: “The early Christians did not say in dismay, ‘Look what the world has come to!’ They said in delight, ‘Look Who has come to the world!’”
That is what I intend to keep saying, by his grace, for his glory. And I don’t think anyone’s anger, including my own, deserves to complicate that glorious gospel.
It’s been said that behind every successful man is a great woman. The wife of one of the most famous names in literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was probably one such woman. Sophia Hawthorne secretly set aside a few dollars each week, a savings that eventually grew large enough to support them both for a year. You see, Sophia believed that her husband would one day be a great writer. When Hawthorne came home and announced in disgrace that he’d been fired from his job in a customhouse, Sophia presented him with the money, saying, “Now you can write your book!” Her confidence and encouragement led to one of America’s classic novels, The Scarlet Letter.
Then there was the corporate chief who, while traveling with his wife, pulled their car into a rundown gas station. They discovered that his wife had dated the gas station attendant in high school. “Boy, are you lucky I came along,” bragged the husband after they left. “If you had married him, you would be the wife of a gas station attendant.”
“My dear,” replied the wife, “if I had married him, he would be the chief executive officer, and you would be the gas station attendant.”
It’s certainly true that one spouse has tremendous influence on the success of the other. Jim has supported me in my spiritual life, in the raising of our children, and in so many other areas. Likewise, I have attempted to bolster him however I could and have seen God’s blessing on his work and ministry. And Jim lets me know he appreciates my encouragement. He has said more than once that I believed in him before he believed in himself. Of course, we’ve fallen short of this supportive ideal on more than one occasion—and you probably will, too. But if you consistently strive to bring strong and steady encouragement to your mate, you’ll both reap lasting rewards.