“Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable.”
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Step 6
Some character defects are harder to give up than others; self-righteous anger is a character defect I hold on to very tightly. Just this weekend I ran into a situation that brought out feelings of self-righteous anger. While part of me feels sick that the situation exists, there is another part of me that wants to hold onto that self-righteous anger because it feels empowering. I don’t like feeling powerless. I don’t like feeling blown about by the events which surround me and pass me by. Being angry in a self-righteous way gives me the illusion of control over situations which are really beyond my control. My anger becomes a rock I cling to in times of stress.
Unlike fear, which is easily recognized as something that holds me back from life accomplishment, self-righteous anger is a psychological ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. It appears helpful but is actually caustic and toxic. It is easier to want to get rid of the obviously detrimental character defects I have; getting rid of the seemingly beneficial ones is much harder.
In John 2:13-17 Jesus seems to have a bout of self-righteous anger when He cleared the Temple courts:
“When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
It is tempting to read this account and cast myself in the same role as Jesus: I must set things right that are ‘obviously’ wrong in my world. Of course, I’m not God; Jesus Is. Jesus is sinless; me…not so much. All authority in heaven and on earth was given to Jesus; I have the authority to publish a few sales reports for my company every week. Jesus had the right to have zeal for His Father’s house but I’m not Him. That’s not to say that I cannot discern right from wrong, know when boundaries are crossed, and work for justice and peace. I think it means I have to acknowledge that even when others are wrong, I am not ‘right’; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I cannot approach a situation in anger, because when I’m angry I assume no fault and place the blame solely on the other person(s). I cannot be angry with someone else while also acknowledging my own culpability, and that’s where my self-righteous anger really breaks down. I may think I’m ‘right’, I may be ‘justified’ and my anger may make me feel empowered and in control, but at the end of the day I’m just another sinner in need of a Savior. I have no authority to self-righteously judge anyone else in anger.
Do you struggle with surrendering self-righteous anger to God?