If you’re not angry, you’re probably not awake

by Frank Stirk

As the founder and former executive director of International Justice Mission Canada, Jamie McIntosh has taken part in overseas operations to rescue children and women from the clutches of modern-day slave traders. Once he had to pretend to be interested in checking out three young girls, ages eight, 10 and 11, for possible purchase.

Being up close and personal with their “owners” was almost more than McIntosh could handle.

“Yeah, I wanted to tear the faces off these guys, absolutely,” he says. “I wanted to take these guys out, but more importantly, scoop the girls up and rush them to freedom.”

But being aware that this would compromise the goal of the operation — to rescue these and other children and bring their captors to justice—McIntosh was able to swallow his outrage. As a Christian, McIntosh says he also remembered that the Bible teaches us to “leave room for God’s wrath,” because vengeance belongs to God alone (Romans 12:19).

David Collins has had to resist similar vengeful urges. In 1994, he went to Rwanda as the founder and CEO of Canadian Food for the Hungry—and became an eyewitness to inter-tribal genocide. In that moment, the taste of revenge was sweet.

“Most guys’ reaction is just go out and waste the guy—‘He’s not worth it.’ I have felt that actually myself,” says Collins, who is now a speaker and author and head of Paradigm Ministries in Abbotsford, B.C. What restrained him was knowing God’s love extends even to the most cold-blooded mass murderer.

“It’s especially difficult—and, I would say, apart from God, impossible—to love the guy who’s holding a machete who’s just hacked up your spouse or your children,” he says. “But is it true that he is any less valuable to God than I am?”

Righteous Anger

McIntosh and Collins both discovered what’s known as righteous anger. This is the anger that does not lead to sin (Ephesians 4:26). This is getting angry over the same things, and only those things, that made Jesus angry.

The Gospels tell of times when Jesus got angry. Once He was “deeply distressed” at the stubborn refusal of the Pharisees to admit that doing good and saving a life was more important than the rules governing the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-5). Another time was when Jesus threw the moneychangers and the sellers of birds and animals out of the temple, because they had turned “a house of prayer” into “a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12-13).

“It’s that intermingling of compassion for the abused and the afflicted, and passionate indignation against those who would prey upon them,” says McIntosh. “This isn’t right and we need to rise up against it—not in a rage, but like Jesus, who saw people who were helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd, caught in the thickets of injustice.”

“If you’re not angry, you’re probably not awake to what’s going on in the world. It should cause anger,” says Aaron White with the Salvation Army’s Corps 614 Vancouver (the number refers to Isaiah 61:4), who both lives and works in the Downtown Eastside.

“But if we’re just cutting a violent swath of anger through injustice, that’s just going to fuel more violence and more anger,” he says. “So in our anger, we really must not sin. We really must say, ‘Lord, what is it that you would have me do?’ Which isn’t to say that sometimes the response can’t be quite potent or forceful.”

A critical element in a righteous response is to make sure the fight is to stop the injustice and help bring about healing, as opposed to just taking out the perpetrators of injustice.

“We fight not against flesh and blood, we fight against principalities and powers,” says Bill Mollard, president of Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission, referring to Ephesians 6:12. “The right fight brings grace, brings mercy. The right fight protects. It always seeks to bring peace and love and reconciliation.”

“You cannot effectively, sustainably fight injustice if you get confused about the battle you’re fighting,” says Collins. “If you get fixated on the people who did it rather than what they did, and you begin to think you’re better than them, then you’ve fallen into the same trap they fell into. The symptom will be different, but the root will be the same.”

Mollard also doubts that any young child would ever dream of growing up to become a pimp or a pusher or an abuser.

“I think evil in and of itself causes people to move in those directions,” he says. “That’s where I get angry, to know that often they had been brutalized when they were young, and they use drugs to anaesthetize themselves from that brutality.”

That said, an abusive childhood is still no excuse for their criminal behavior now that they’re adults. They still need to be legally caught, convicted and sent to prison.

“You need to restrain them if they’ve lost the capacity for self-government, restrain them from their crimes,” says McIntosh. “Then hopefully there will be an opportunity for them to reflect on their ways and change course, as their hearts are touched as well.”

White worries that some of those people “are just so far gone that barring an absolute miracle of God, I don’t know what’s going to happen to them. But only God’s in a position to make those eternal judgments.”

Telling Results

But when righteous anger stays focused on breaking the yoke of oppression and injustice, the results speak for themselves.

“In one specific region of the Philippines,” McIntosh says, “we have seen a 79 per cent reduction in just three years in the number of children available for commercial exploitation. We recently had 512 men, women and children set free from slavery in a brick kiln in India. These breakthroughs, I think, begin to build hope for the future.”

As well, in the past year, every graduate of Union Gospel Mission’s alcohol and drug recovery program has remained clean and sober.

“Righteous anger,” says Mollard, “should always lead to action. It is being God’s voice, being God’s hands, showing people that there is hope, that life won’t always be like this, and trying to bring God’s shalom, God’s community, His kingdom, into the situation. If righteous anger does nothing, then it’s just an emotion. It’s just apathy.”


Frank Stirk is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.