How Do You Handle Righteous Anger? (Nehemiah 5:6-13)
When I was sixteen years old I was bending down at my locker to get some books out of the bottom and another big guy bumped into me causing me to bump my head on the locker. I was angry. My friend pointed to the guy who did it and said, “He did it on purpose, are you going to let him get away with that?” And before I knew it, in my anger I pulled on his shoulder and said, “Hey, why did you bump me into my locker?” At that moment, it seemed like the whole school had organized to form a ring around us and everyone began to chant, “Fight, fight, fight.” It didn’t matter what he would have said next, my anger had lead me into a situation where I felt like I couldn’t back down and so I threw the first punch I had ever thrown in my life. It landed squarely in his mouth and cut a huge gash in my knuckle and left a scar that I carry to this day. The scar is a good reminder of how stupid I can get when I am angry.
Don’t get me wrong. Anger can be a good emotion. We should be angry about some of the things that go on in the world. I’m angry whenever I hear about someone abusing or neglecting children. Anger in that context is an appropriate emotional response to an unjust situation. The trouble can come though when I act in anger. You see just anger can and should be used to move us into just action, but if we are not careful our anger will move us to action without concern for justice at all.
In my first fist fight I was angry and I was moved to action, but it wasn’t just. I didn’t take the time to evaluate, much less discuss what had happened. My anger blinded me and in a series of poor choices my anger helped me do more harm than good. You see that’s what action without reflection does, it sabotages our best efforts and turns them into destructive decisions.
Nehemiah was human. He heard some news and it made him angry, but look at his reaction. He was able to process his anger into something productive. I wish I had thought like Nehemiah when I was sixteen years old.
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the LORD. And the people did as they had promised. (Nehemiah 5:6-13 ESV)
The first thing Nehemiah does is to “take counsel with himself.” In other words he mastered his feelings and brought his anger under control. He realized that while emotions are a good indication of how he feels, they do not get to decide how he acts. Rather than letting the anger control him; he controls the anger.
Anger is like a high powered water hose used by firefighters to put out a blaze. When pointed in the right direction it can actually help put out the fires of injustice that blaze around our world. However, the same hose when not controlled can whip around wildly and cause more destruction than the fire it was designed to put out.