In 2006 Moore Theological College in Sydney Australia held a conference on the consolations of theology and Brian Rosner edited the papers into a little book worthy of pastoral considerations. The title is The Consolations of Theology. Six studies of human realities — anger, obsession, despair, anxiety, disappointment, and pain. But the approach is to show how one major theologian deals with that problem. So we get Lactantius, Augustine, Luther, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer and CS Lewis. The authors? Richard Gibson, Andrew Cameron, Mark Thompson, Peter Bolt, Brian Rosner and Robert Banks. Today we look at anger, by Richard Gibson, and modulated through the works of Lactantius.
Do you struggle with anger? What do you do that helps? Do you deny the reality or appropriateness of anger or are you the kind that rationalizes and justifies even inappropriate anger? How to find a balance here — the balance of Eph 4:26-27, the balance of being angry at the right things and not angry at the wrong things?
One of our problems is turning such themes into nothing but psychology. The value of this book is to explore the theme theologically.
The title of the book has a history and Lactantius has a background in the 3d and 4th Century, but I can’t possibly sketch either in a post. So, let’s dive into some major ideas Gibson brings about anger as he reads Lactantius (see his On the Anger of God).
Anger is real and it is one of the human “furies”: anger, love of gain, and sexual desire. Each of these are normal; each needs to be controlled. That’s the point. The challenge is to restrain not eliminate them, and so he critiques both the Peripatetics and the Stoics who moderated or denied them. He’s an unabashed realist: God gave us anger. It’s legitimate. It can be used for good or for bad.
God, in fact, is angry — and this is mostly stuff that Gibson expounds from Lactantius — God cares and he is repulsed by sin; he is angry with injustice, etc.. God is not impassive and inactive. That is, the one who loves the good must hate (or be angry at) the bad; the one who is not angry at the bad is not in love with the good. Anger, then, is rooted in God’s response to sin and evil and injustice.
So Gibson draws six conclusions:
1. Our capacity for anger is a good gift from God but it is good insofar as it leads to oppose sin and straighten life.
2. In our anger God is committed to conform us to the image of the Son.
3. In community we must be angry at sin.
4. In community the word of Christ protects us from excessive anger.
5. We live in a world ruled by the God who is angry at evil.
6. The cross embodies the anger of God against evil and paradoxically undoes it.