Abuse and Anger: Is it a Sin to Be Angry Toward Our Abuser?
Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, (27) and give no opportunity to the devil.
We had a discussion yesterday in our women’s study group about whether it is right or not for a Christian to ever be angry when they are sinned against. That is to say, some people wondered if anger is ever appropriate when we ourselves are the victim. Being angry when another person was victimized didn’t seem to be troublesome to anyone, but the idea of being angry when we personally are victimized seemed to be sinful in the thinking of some. Someone said, “well, Jesus was angry when He drove the money changers out of the temple, so anger must not always be sinful.” Someone else responded, “but we are not Jesus.”
Now, this much I do know. If we tell abuse victims that it is sinful for them to be angry about what was done or is being done to them, we are going to do them much harm. In fact many abusers will use this very tactic against their victim: “You call yourself a Christian! You are just an angry, bitter person! You are unforgiving.” You know the line I am sure.
So what about it? It is pretty easy to find Scriptures that show that it is right to be angry when we see evil and injustice. But what about when we are the victim of that evil and injustice ourselves?
It seems to me that perhaps some of our difficulty here is due to failure to define terms. Just what do we mean by “anger”? Here is a woman, for example, who has been horridly abused for years and she is coming to an awakening of what has been happening to her. She starts to understand the nature and mentality and tactics of abuse. She sees that her abuser has in fact really never loved her – ever. And she sees her church embracing the guy as a fine, eminent Christian. And she is angry. What do we mean by that?
We know that one aspect of anger that we are not to visit is vengeance. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. It is something that we really aren’t equipped to handle because sometimes we would punish the wrong person, or we would falsely condemn, or we might just fail to apply enough punishment! God will do all of this perfectly on that great Day. But then there is another aspect to anger. It is the desire for justice to be done. It can look pretty emotional too. It is that hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is the desire that God would indeed take vengeance upon our persecutors. And that is not only permissible, it is right and holy and good! Listen to these words from Revelation:
Revelation 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. (10) They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
See that? And you have to conclude that this is a rather impassioned cry! Is this anger? Yes, I think it is. “Avenge our blood” pretty well nails it down. First person personal pronoun – “our” blood. And you have it repeatedly in the imprecatory Psalms:
Psalms 3:7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
Psalms 79:4-6 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us. (5) How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire? (6) Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!
So we must take care in claiming that it is always sinful for us to be angry when we are sinned against. If we are talking about taking personal vengeance, seeking to carry out revenge ourselves, then that is wrong. But if we are talking about a desire to see justice exacted upon our enemies and abusers, then not only is there nothing wrong with this, there is everything RIGHT about it.
We received the following comment recently from a fellow in response to the article we posted quite some time ago regarding John MacArthur’s whole approach to abuse and his denial of abuse as a grounds for divorce. Here is what this fellow had to say to us:
I am really sorry all of you feel this way. It seems a lot is being missed (as often is) when looking from the outside. I have had the opportunity to attend some men’s gatherings with GTY [Grace to You, the ministry of John MacArthur] and listened to many of Dr. Macs sermons. With this said I believe you are looking at his comments out of context. Many of you talk of having an abusive husband who claims to be a Christian…GTY would stand behind the view of church discipline and addressing this if brought to leadership’s attention. Just addressing your first point, read that reference you posted and go back 1 paragraph, the entire section is about the inexcusable sin of abuse. Finally you speak of the emotional abuse (considering unbeliever). Christians in Bible times and today (in other countries) have suffered physical and emotional abuse. God has time and again commanded us to display the same Christ likeness when he was whipped to near death, spit on, and finally our God hung on the cross to die.
And there in those last couple of sentences this guy condemns abuse victims to an ongoing hell, in the name of Christ! Don’t be angry. Hey, you know you really haven’t suffered that much. But even if you get whipped to near death or spit upon, don’t get excited. Be like Jesus and take it! Blah, blah, blah. That makes me angry!! Righteously angry! My question for Mr. Commenter is, “why aren’t you angry about it?”
I have news for this guy. First, he would not take that treatment for a second if it happened to him. Second, the Lord Jesus Christ’s sufferings on the Cross are not to be equated with our sufferings. WE do not effect redemption from sin when we suffer. Christ did. Jesus avoided abuse numbers of times in His earthly life. When it came to the Cross, He submitted. For our redemption. For atonement of sin. But we are not redeemers. That is why I wrote the original article on MacArthur’s views about suffering and abuse. I asked the question” “Does John MacArthur teach a view of meritorious suffering?”
There is nothing wrong with crying out for justice and in that sense, being angry when we are abused. There is everything healthy and right about doing so and even about desiring to see our abuser punished for his or her evil. So don’t ever lay the idea upon persecuted people that they are sinning if they are angry. Chances are that their anger is one of the first signs that they are awakening to the truth of what has been happening to them. And that is very good.