The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

Anger, Family, And Murder June 19, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joel @ 11:47 pm

I have been reading Bonhoeffer’s chapter on “The Brother” chapter 9 in The Cost Of Discipleship


Here Bonhoeffer says that “Jesus will not accept the common distinction between righteous indignation and unjustifiable anger.”  This is challenging to me personally as I have often spoken to people about the need for Christians to shirk the fear of being angry, the reason being that I saw little use in the false kindness I saw in many Christian’s lives (and that this was often times their only serious ethic).  I thought that some honest expression of anger would bring truthfulness to community.  Perhaps this is what Bonhoeffer is talking against and perhaps he is right; I am interested to know if we are talking about the same thing.  I am wondering if what I have called “righteous anger” should in fact be called something else; we will see.

            He goes on to say that, “The disciple must be entirely innocent of anger, because anger is an offence against both God and his neighbor.  Every idle word which we think so little of betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his.  The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy.  With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence.  We are passing judgment on him, and that is murder.  And the murderer will himself be judged.”


5 Responses to “Anger, Family, And Murder”

  1. Heidi Renee Says:

    I struggled greatly with that part of COD. I lived my whole childhood in a “kiss and make up” home – anger was NEVER an option. I think that the emotion of anger is God given. Jesus got angry. Rage or resentment that comes from anger that is left to rot is different – but the initial anger that comes from injustice or our boundaries being crossed isn’t sinful – “be angry and sin not” – not anger is a sin is a much more biblical stand than Bonhoeffer takes here.

  2. Mike Harris Says:

    The only argument I can think of for the equality of an emotion felt and an action taken is when Jesus talked about lust and anger in the heart being as bad as actual actions taken. (You know – That one time when he said that. I’m too lazy to look it up. Is laziness a sin? Doesn’t matter.) Maybe it’s just my background, maybe I’m just a product of our times, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve gone through more group therapy than Stuart Smalley, but I have to believe that there is a distinction to be made between an emotion felt and an action taken. Nobody can stop him- or herself from feeling something. Emotions happen. How can it *not* be what we do with those emotions that defines who we are? Bonhoeffer might even agree, since he seems to think of an angry word as a blow struck. Action taken, not just emotion felt. I would think that the problem with anger is letting it fester and never dealing with the root cause. Feeling an emotion and acting on that emotion have to be two different things. One may feel compassion for the poor or injured, but aren’t people called to go further and act? At the very least, this would mean that the action taken from the emotion is part of the overall offense (or act of kindness, depending).

  3. Matt Wiebe Says:

    Good passage from Bonhoeffer here. I think that what he’s getting at is that, once we’ve made the move from the unhealthy place of simply denying anger (as in Heidi’s childhood) to saying that it has its place, we move into a new area of danger where all anger becomes justifiable by labeling it “righteous.”

    I suspect that Bonhoeffer’s context included seeking discipleship after an overly-liberal Christian formation where such justification routinely occurs, which he is reacting against, not to mention the fact that Germans are certainly known for their volatile tempers!

  4. Jonathan Says:

    Since Bonhoeffer famously met his horrifically brutal end in a German prison because of his involvement with the militantly Anti Hitlerian Abwher in 1943 (where the “blows” exchanged were not merely metaphorical), I think Bonhoeffer unquestionably believed in the validity of righteous anger, but was merely, as he stated, opposed to unjustifiable anger masquerading as righteous anger. Joining the Abwehr would certainly seem to demonstrate a bit (indeed, an abundance) of righteous anger.

  5. masonmusic Says:

    Good responses, i appreciate them all. I have been wondering if this book is one of the most easy to misunderstand. He often uses ‘traditional’ language but tweeks things at interesting points, this anger passage is defintely one of them.

    Perhaps anger can be our aid, to bring us to a realization of our own sin, instead of focusing on the other person’s (which we are angry about). with this admonition from Jesus filtered through Bonny bon bon, we can see how we so often seek, inadvertently through our anger, to extinguish not only the other person but ourselves as well. For with forgiveness, we move not only the other person but our own stubborn minds and hearts.

    mike, i am interested also in the relationship between ‘feeling’ and ‘doing.’ I heard a scholar recently say something similar about the word ‘lust’ in the new testament. he said that it was an action word, not an emotional inner state (as most evangelicals are taught from day one). If this example is true, then the admonition not to lust is more related to how we would act towards the person.

    I have another good Bonhoeffer coming soon…..

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