What is the purpose of anger? What is forgiveness?

We are told in Ephesians 4:26 to be angry but don’t sin. In the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6, we are told that if we do not forgive others, we are not forgiven by God. Why does Paul tell us to be angry, and what is anger for, and what is forgiveness?

I think that we can see a major problem in our country today: Many people are angry at many people, and they are acting on that anger. Anger is a gift from God for one purpose — it is to tell us when there is injustice. If someone is being treated badly, for no just reason, then that is a reason to get angry. If someone is being treated badly because they are a different race or religion, then that is injustice, and there is reason to get angry.

If I see injustice around me, and I do not get angry, then there is something wrong with me. All through the Old Testament, the prophets get angry at leaders who are abusing those under them. The main job of prophets was to tell rulers when they were wrong. They were to speak truth to those who had the power to make a difference. Today, the phrase is often used of speaking truth to power. Their job was to warn the people when they were being unjust, or when they were allowing injustice to grow. This was not an easy task. This was not an easy job. It did not make them popular, and it often ended in them being killed.

How does this relate to forgiveness? The first thing we need to remember is that anger is about injustice. If there is no injustice, then there are no grounds for anger. If I do not get what I want, but it is not a matter of justice, then I have no grounds to be angry. Disappointed, yes, but angry, no. However, there may be things in my past that are matters of injustice. I may have been cheated or even robbed or defrauded in my past.

I may have been abused or neglected by my parents. However, if I am an adult, and on my own, then my parents have no power over me. The question then becomes, do I still let the past rule my present? If past hurts still bring a surge of anger, then I am still enslaved by the past. Forgiveness is not excusing bad behavior. Forgiveness is not saying that what someone did was OK; it is letting go of the past.

Forgiveness is when the past has no power over the present. If I can remember the past, and it is like a faded picture, that I can look at, and say, oh yes, I once felt rather hurt and angry about that, and all the hurt and anger is just a memory, then that is forgiveness.

The catch is that we cannot do this on our own. We do not have within us the power to forgive. We can only forgive because God gives us this ability through the presence of the Holy Spirit. We only have the power to forgive because of the Holy Spirit giving us that ability. The first step is to pray for God to help us to forgive and then pray for all the people we have not yet forgiven.

(“From the Pulpit” is a weekly sermon provided by the clergy members of The Weirton Ministerial Association)