A global pandemic has ravaged economies. Our relationships are socially distanced. People are unemployed and without resources. Kids don’t have equal access to education. Racism is splitting communities, families, and friendships. Humans are trafficked and exploited. Mothers and fathers watch their children die from thirst or starvation while others waste incredible amounts of food and water.
Our fellow brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, are suffering at the hand of injustice.
It’s not fair. It’s not right. And it makes me feel very, very angry.
You might say, “Whoa—check it at the door. Don’t let the sun go down while you’re still angry!”
I respond with this: Don’t go to bed while you are still humanly angry. Even God is angry over the injustice He sees!
What about you? Does the fight for justice have you feeling righteous anger, or something more human?
That’s what I’m still trying to figure out for myself. Here’s a little of my journey:
Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. James 1:20 NLT
When I read that verse one night, it jumped out at me. So I highlighted it and went to sleep. The next day, a friend asked me, “How can we pursue justice and get righteously angry about the things that break God’s heart?”
Smart friend, tough question, great timing. It made me re-highlight that verse mentally and spiritually, and realize God was trying to tell me something.
Injustice makes God angry—but His anger leads to righteousness. My own human anger, without submission to His authority, does not.
Anger is strong. How do I pause and discern when it’s of God and when it’s rooted in my human heart?
Here are three f-words to process your anger over the fight for justice. (And no. Not those words.)
When the fight for justice makes you angry, you don’t have to justify yourself or decide whether you should be angry. You don’t have to be alarmed or embarrassed, mask it with other more acceptable emotions, or try to make it go away.
Acknowledge something has tripped your anger wire, and let yourself feel it. Stop acting. Be present. Then, as my three-year-old likes to remind me, “Take a deep breath, and count to four.” That’s her way of saying:
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” … Ephesians 4:26 NLT
When I do this well, I count my inhale and exhale to control my breath while choosing a response to my anger instead of reacting without thinking (aka yelling, name-calling, finger-pointing, slamming doors, throwing things, ranting on social media, etc.). I can be in control when I feel angry about injustice, instead of blaming anger for any out-of-control (and potentially sinful) reactions.
Personally, I don’t view my response at this stage as the solution to the injustice I am angry about. It’s more of a word I use to think about what things I can do to healthfully experience the anger, calm my body’s physiological response, and move on to step two.
Once you’ve indulged your angry feels, filter.
This is where you process your anger through the lens of Christ and submit it to His authority. The second part of Ephesians 4:26 is a helpful, practical tool for this step:
… Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry … Ephesians 4:26 NLT
You might remember that one from the beginning of this post. (And don’t worry, I’m not gonna tell you to simmer down now. Please don’t.)
“Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry” is my reminder to process and filter anger as much as I can before I go to bed so I’m not a raging, reactive, angry person when I’m trying to go to sleep (and, coincidentally, when I awake the next morning—sorry, spouse and kids). I may still feel the angry fire in my belly, but once it is submitted to God, I can trust He will lead me through how to act in righteousness.
Use prayer as part of your filter—talk to God about the injustice that’s got you mad and ask Him to turn your anger toward His purpose. He cares, and He’s calling you to take up the fight for justice.
Ask God to give you clarity in your next steps—He created you uniquely to care about what you care about and can show you how to use righteous, holy anger, humbly submitted to Him, to bring healing and restoration. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you—including finding the godly purpose in the anger the fight for justice has you feeling.
Talk it through with another human, too. Someone you feel safe sharing your deepest heart with— because processing anger might make you say some pretty crazy stuff! If you like to write or journal, do it—(I personally keep a written “angry list” hidden away)—but don’t prematurely filter your anger in a public arena where it can be taken out of context and cause more hurt than healing. Tend to your anger privately and humbly in your relationships with God and your closest humans (maybe even with a counselor!) as you consider what action to take (see 1 Peter 5:5-6).
You felt your feels. You filtered your fury. Now it’s time to talk about your fiery frustration—and fuel.
First, think about this: What fuels your anger?
God created us to feel anger when injustice occurs. But He doesn’t call us to be hoppin’ mad all the time. And, quite frankly, being angry all the time isn’t good for your own health, the health of your relationships, or the health of your cause. What does that have to do with fuel? There are a lot of triggers out there, as several focuses of the fight for justice are prevalent in the media and conversations right now. That’s “fuel.”
If you set boundaries, you can limit your exposure so that, when you get angry, you have the energy and space to feel and filter your emotions. But if you allow yourself to be bombarded by triggers or even seek them out (I’m looking at you, Google!), you’re going to have an exhausting, smoldering rage ready to explode when someone walks by with just a splash of gasoline—forget feeling and filtering!
So, pray for wisdom in setting boundaries around social media, conversations, watching the news, reading articles, etc., and for discernment in how to use your time and what role you can play in the fight for justice.
Secondly, think about this: What does your anger fuel?
When the fight for justice gets you good and angry, ask yourself what it fuels inside of you and in the environment around you. Do you fall to offense, judgment, bitterness, and harm? Or does it motivate you to love others, build them up, and bring things like empathy, open dialogue, compassionate education, service, healing, and change to the table?
If you see your anger fuels more harm than good, give yourself grace. The power of the Holy Spirit is within you to transform you and renew you, and God designed your body and mind to be flexible. When you allow yourself to be present with your anger when it’s incited, to feel it, and to respond instead of reacting, your body and brain will learn to slow down, and you’ll be better able to submit your anger to God.
When you see injustice and it makes you as angry as a murder hornet, remember, Jesus has been there, too. Anger is not foreign to Him. Read about His run-ins with hypocritical religious leaders and the zeal He had for His Father’s house here and here. He was fully God and fully man, and He responded to egregious wrongs with anger in righteous ways. He’s there to carry you through and use you to fight for justice and reflect His glory.