A couple months ago, to my wife’s dismay, I found myself rolling down the window of our vehicle and yelling at the driver of a taxi. It was during a traffic jam, and he had cut into my lane after passing vehicles on the shoulder and had then forced me into the opposite lane, in danger of oncoming traffic.
While driving here in East Africa, I sometimes struggle with road rage, and I’m sure I am not alone. For many of us, one of the hard things about living in another country is adapting to new driving conditions. For me that has meant learning to drive on the left side and learning how to dodge goats and crazy taxis. Such stresses can cause us much more road rage than we experience in our home countries.
For me, it is extremely rare for my road rage to turn into actually yelling at another driver. The more usual manifestations are anger, increased blood pressure, lots of honking, stress, and unfortunately sometimes being more snappy with others in my vehicle. Sometimes I feel guilty about this anger and sometimes I think it is right for me to be angry.
Today I’m going to discuss this issue of “righteous anger” and also talk about how I try to deal with my road rage problem. I warmly welcome comments and suggestions so that we can all help each other to manage our road rage in a healthy way.
First, let me explain what things actually make me angry while driving and what things don’t.
Inconvenient things that do not make me angry. They are just part of life in many foreign countries:
- Dusty dirt roads.
- Getting stuck in the mud during the rainy season.
- Traffic jams in big cities.
- Endless speed bumps.
- Sharing one lane with other vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and people walking.
- Police checkpoints. Police often like to ask, “How’s Obama?” or “How’s Trump?” I had one policeman actually reach in the window and stroke my beard!
- No public rest areas.
- Construction that takes forever to be completed.
- Strangers asking for rides.
- Chaotic border crossings.
Things that make me angry, especially when I experience many of them at once:
- People leaving animals untied so they run into the road.
- No directions through a construction area, so you just have to find your own way through without getting flattened by a construction vehicle.
- Politicians traveling in a convoy, speeding for no reason down the middle of a highway, and running people off the road on both sides.
- Traffic lights being totally ignored. You just have to courageously find your own way through the intersection.
- Motorcycle drivers driving wherever they can find space, even through tiny cracks between vehicles or going against traffic in the wrong lane to take shortcuts.
- Taxis doing whatever they want. Drivers overfill their taxis with people, skip repairs, and speed, all because they pay bribes to the police. I especially get angry when I am trying to be very patient in a traffic jam, and I get continually passed by taxis on both sides because they are willing to run other vehicles (and people) off the road into shoulders and ditches. My road rage used to result in me putting my vehicle halfway into the shoulder during a traffic jam to prevent taxis from doing this. But it does not work and is only a good way for us to lose a mirror as the taxis keep passing anyway.
- People disobeying the speeding laws. I force myself to go the required 30 kilometers per hour when driving through towns along the highway, and it is incredibly difficult when people fly by at 80 without a thought. But what makes me really depressed is when other Christians disobey the speeding laws without a care, while God’s Word tells us clearly to obey the laws of the countries we live in.
What do you notice about the two different lists? I realized that the things that make me angry concern corruption, people breaking the law, and people endangering the lives of others. In many of the countries we all live in, these things cause regular loss of life. To put it simply, I am angry at lawlessness and injustice. Am I alone in this anger? What about you?
Sinful Anger versus Righteous Anger
How should we think about this anger? The Bible makes clear that anger is sinful much of the time. This is for at least two reasons.
1. Sometimes our anger is sinful because of the reason we get angry. We get angry because of our pride and our sense of entitlement. For example, I might experience road rage in a traffic jam, thinking my time is more important than everyone else’s. Being angry at the things in the first list would be a good indication that my anger is sinful anger.
2. Sometimes our anger leads us to other sins. Our anger can lead to violence, to verbal abuse, to impatience, to hate, etc.
But the Bible is also clear that not all anger is sinful. Ephesians 4:26 says – “In your anger, do not sin.” So we know that is possible to be angry, but then not sin in that anger. We see that God gets angry yet God does not sin. If God did not get angry at sin, he would be an unjust God. His anger is righteous anger. We can see God’s wrath, or Jesus’ anger in just about every book of the Bible. It is right to get angry at sin and injustice. In fact, one could argue that if we are apathetic, if we do not get angry when we see injustice, that we are sinning.
Here are some Bible passages that I resonate with concerning righteous anger:
Psalm 119:36 – Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.
Psalm 119:53 – Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.
See also Nehemiah 5:1-8, Mark 3:5, and 2 Peter 2:7-8.
Dealing with my Road Rage
Is my road rage sinful anger or is it righteous anger? I think the answer is “yes” to both. Sometimes it is righteous anger, and sometimes it is sinful anger, but it is usually a mixture of both. Sometimes I am truly angry at injustice, just as God is angry at injustice, and I want to use that passion, energy, and anger to try to make a change in the society.
However, most of the time my anger leads me to frustration, impatience, and bitterness. Sometimes it leads me to hate other drivers. Sometimes it leads me to say harsh words to others. I deeply regret those aspects of my road rage. I have been continually repenting of this sinful road rage and asking for God’s help. It is only God who can change my heart and help me to become more like Christ. But there are some steps I have taken which God has been using to help me with this problem.
Here is what I do:
First, when someone does something dangerous on the road, I honk my horn to alert them to it. Perhaps this does not accomplish that much, but I feel like it is one of the only small things I can do to try to make a difference in how others are driving. However, I have to be very careful not to use this as a way to shout my anger at another driver (for example honking repeatedly).
Second, I try to give my anger over to God each time road rage springs up in me. I think this is healthier than trying to bottle it up and healthier than giving free vent to my anger, which only makes it grow. I now pray each time it comes up and ask God to help me and take away my bitterness.
Third, when someone else on the road does something horribly obnoxious or dangerous, I consciously remind myself that God is the judge who will judge them, and I leave the judgment up to him. I try to remember my own sins and flaws in other areas of my life. I try to forgive those other drivers from my heart. And then, at the same time, I also ask God to bless that driver, to help him learn to drive more safely, and to take care of him. In a sense I feel like this is praying for my enemies. They are not my enemies in truth, but when I am full of road rage they can feel like an enemy!
Fourth, I try to periodically reflect on Bible passages about the problems of anger. For example: Proverbs 29:11 – “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” And 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
Fifth, I look for ways to use my anger for good in this world. I want my anger to drive me to positive action. So I regularly talk to people, especially Christians, about the importance of obeying the laws of the country we live in, and the importance of driving safely. I am sure I don’t always do this perfectly, and sometimes I probably come across as very critical, but I am trying to encourage my brothers and sisters to do the right thing. We should drive according to the laws and set good examples to others.
What other tips can you share that have helped you with your own road rage?
Let us all continue to grow in love and patience, setting good examples both in the ways that we drive, and in how we handle our road rage.
How can we be angry and not sin?
Anthony Sytsma works in Kenya and Uganda with World Renew, a Christian development organization affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA). He is passionate about equipping local churches, and his main work is to teach and encourage church leaders. He is married to Sara who works with farmers in agricultural development and other livelihood projects.