by Melissa Lipsett
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
I have a confession to make: I have an anger problem. It’s not pretty either because I’m a follower of Jesus (for 35 plus years), an ordained minister, and a leader of a global Christian organisation. And everyone knows that anger doesn’t mix with faith.
Or does it? So what’s my problem?
Quite simply, the state of our world.
It’s the fact that the divide between rich and poor is wider than ever, that COVID-19 is pushing millions into extreme poverty, which is the first reversal in extreme poverty rates in decades. (Extreme poverty is defined as living on $1.95US or less a day, imagine!) Food insecurity and the possibility of famine for millions across Northern Africa and the Middle East is frighteningly real.
On my own Australian back doorstep, children in Asia are facing hunger, increased disease and huge physical and emotional safety risks beyond what’s considered ‘normal’ in these countries as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
And if this isn’t enough to get me really mad, what about the systems of injustice that conspire to keep down the most marginalised and vulnerable? What about the fact that while over 20 percent of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, less than one percent of people in low-income countries have had a jab?
So angry? You bet. And my anger problem becomes a bigger problem, a sinful one that is, if I retreat into my protected, affluent, safe, peaceful, pious world and don’t do something in response. Admittedly, the heartbreaks and injustices of today’s world can be overwhelming, but if I allow them to keep me from acting, mine is just a meaningless rant.
What, then, does the Bible say about this anger problem? The Apostle Paul clearly tells us in Ephesians 4:26, ‘In your anger do not sin,’ and ‘Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’ His instruction to curb and control our anger comes in the context of daily relationships, with neighbours and fellow members of Christ’s body. And it’s fair and wise instruction for us in the day to day.
But Ezekiel 36:26 talks about God giving his people a heart of flesh, a soft heart that cares deeply about justice. Like Jesus had in his ministry and specifically when he was angry in the temple because religious leaders misused God’s work and mistreated the poor (Matthew 21:12,13).
In other words, a broken heart for the world is first of all a repentant heart – one that understands how complicated our sinful world is, understands that when I take or use too much, someone else is affected. A broken, repentant heart knows that God calls us to make a difference in the world, to the full extent in which we’re resourced and able.
That call might be beyond what we’re comfortable with, surpassing what I consider to be surplus. What, after all, does God require of us? Micah 6:8 answers: ‘to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.’ How? In service of those less fortunate, less able, less resourced, less free.
In other words, we can be angry and not sin. Being angry about today’s tragedies and doing nothing is an easy, sinful option, especially when doing less than what stretches me (no, I really mean stretches). God is not pleased with indifference. If I’m enjoying privilege without exercising responsibility, or if I’m wallowing in laziness, selfishness, complacency, inattention, then surely my anger is anything but righteous. Or if terrible things are happening which grieve God and I’m checked out, surely my lack of anger is also unrighteous.
Followers of Jesus are given the amazing privilege of becoming an open door and welcoming table to all, washing dirty, dusty feet, feeding the hungry, caring for the widow and the orphan, and setting the captive (of anything) free, as Jesus did. We don’t always do this well, but we can take small steps everyday toward caring for others, toward making a difference in this messy broken world.
And every time I see Christians responding to God’s call to care, I am drawn to hope again, even in my anger at the brokenness of the world. Hope that God will use my anger to turn us toward that which he has always called me to: loving my neighbour as myself, my homeless neighbour, my lonely neighbour, my neighbour with skin a different colour, my poverty-stricken neighbour, my neighbour caught in the unjust systems that I have too often helped create with our own consumption.
God is angry about injustice and wickedness. Jesus reflected that anger in the temple and even took on God’s wrath on the cross to make things right. So I pray he will make my anger more about his desires and less about mine.
Rev. Melissa Lipsett is the acting CEO of Baptist World Aid Australia in Sydney, a global aid and development organisation that ‘dreams of a world where poverty has ended and all people enjoy the fullness of life God intends.’