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 once in a Bible 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 Jesus talked about.  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 hungering and thirsting 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.

 

7 thoughts on “Abuse and Anger: Is it a Sin to Be Angry Toward Our Abuser?

  1. joepote01

    Excellent post, Jeff!

    I had never really thought about it as you have described, but you’re right. It is anger in regard to something done to me, personally, that I sometimes struggle with wondering if it is righteous or unrighteous.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Karen

    I agree that it isn’t sinful to be angry at our abuser for lying through their marriage vows, made before God; never loving, honoring or cherishing us. And for never even trying to love us as Christ loves His church (Eph 5:25); for, instead of making this marriage that he is charged with leading into a picture of Christ our loving saviour and His beloved church, representing Christ as an abuser to any who understand who the husband is to represent. I am angered by these things and more.

    But… the Bible also tells us to pray FOR our enemies (Mattv5:44) and I have for years and will continue to pray for my husband, that he would truly be saved, that he would come to know Christ, that the Holy Spirit would be able to reside in his heart so that he might be able to feel compassion for others. The Bible calls us to pray FOR them and I believe it is possible to simultaneously pray for them and feel righteous anger.

    Thank you so much for this and all of your other articles. They are so helpful, particularly in sorting out the confusion that is brought on by being married to someone like this and being counseled by the church when they really don’t understand, nor actively seek out what the Bible has to say about such matters. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. walkinginlight

    Thank you Pastor Crippen!! I had to chew on this for a few days. I would always feel somewhat guilty for getting angry at the anti-husband, even though he has done and continues to do wicked things to me. I have no idea why God has allowed him to come home from working overseas for almost fifteen years! I had a bit of peace in my life. And now he is right back at it with me. He is a very contentious man with a reprobate mind. I am waiting patiently for the Lord to show me how to permanently be away from this peace hater. In the meantime it is good to know that I am not sinning when I hate and despise his wicked and evil tactics.

    MARANATHA!!!

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  4. Emmy

    I agree it is not sinful to be angry when you are treated ill. I’d call it indignation. It is normal and human to feel that way. I don’t know the ministry of John McArthur at all but I have the idea he confuses things here. I believe we sometimes need to go to great lenghts when we are preaching the Gospel. We may encounter bad treatment when we testify of Our Lord. That happened to Paul and to Peter. It still happens. I believe it is understandable to feel anger even then, but in such situations we can know that God sees everything and he will finally put everything right. And something good might still come out of it.

    On the other hand, Paul writes to the Thessalonicans how God expects us to live together as a community of believers: we are not called to uncleanlines but to holines, and no on should harm or wrong his brother in any way, because God does revenge these kind of things. I understand this applies also to sisters. God does not want his people to wrong or harm each other in any way! He is not happy about it and revenge will be there if there is no repentance and the abuse goes on. When a church member abuses another, church discipline is in everyone’s best interest. If the church leaders close their eyes or blame the victim or prevent her (or him) getting the kind of support (s)he needs, they can gardly expect blessings for their actions.

    We should remember some of the other times when Jesus was angry. He was very angry when a man with a withered hand came to him for healing…but the religious leaders did not want that man to be healed on Sabbath. And he was angry at his disciples when they tried to prevent mothers to bring their children to Jesus. It is a very serious thing to come between Jesus and the one who is looking for his mercy, justice and help. And when a church member is looking for justice, mercy and help when (s)he is being abused or wronged by another church member, the church leadership should not be dismissive or blame the victim. If they do that, they are misrepresenting God and coming between Jesus and the one looking for his help.

    Having said this all…it can be very tiresome and wexing to be angry for a long time. If the abuser is unrepentent or no church discipline is even coming, how to go on with life without having to carry these feelings of anger with you all the time? I found it very helpful when I realized that although I was not allowed to seek revenge I was allowed to seek and ask for compensation or amendmend for myself! A heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders when I prayed: “Father, you see everything that has been done to me. I leave all revenge or discipline this person needs to you and I ask you to be merciful to him and to let all things work to his good also. You know what is best for him. But please do not despise my sufferings. I ask you to bless me and to compensate for my loss and to give me something good instead.”

    I can tell that God has answered that prayer in many ways. I believe David meant something similar in the Good Shepherd Psalm: You lay for me a banqueting table in front the eyes of my enemies.

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