Posted: September 28, 2016 by James Harvey
David Powlison has done us all a great service in providing this extended reflection on what anger is and what we can do with it. Anger has been a perennial problem since the days of Cain and Abel, but Good and Angry is an especially timely book given the high temperature of anger in our country. Daily we can observe the power of anger to tear down. Powlison offers a framework to channel anger to build up. I look forward to working through the content with our church in various forums. The first will be our 1st Friday Fellowship Meal on October 7th. (Sign up here!)
Anger is mysterious and most of us do not process it well. We know that there is the theoretical possibility of being righteous and angry at the same time. Jesus got angry (Mark 3:1-6). Paul says, "Be angry, and do not sin" (Ephesians 4:26). Those who are in Christ are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). We have the Holy Spirit within us waging war against the flesh. The impulse of anger does not have to automatically lead to a wrath within us that boils over (Galatians 5:20). And yet, channeling anger in a godly direction remains all too elusive for most people.
Powlison shows what constitutes righteous and unrighteous anger. He explains the physiology of anger as an all consuming force but notes that anger in itself is a neutral faculty, directed by higher powers of the heart within us. You cannot understand your anger without understanding your heart. He offers robust examples from Scripture, his counseling ministry, and literature. Spiritual growth is often hindered because we assume that we "get it." Powlison's examples are helpful because they require the reader to slow down and let the teaching sink in. They also challenge unspoken and often unknown preconceived notions about anger.
Good and Angry builds on this portrait of anger by laying out a framework for readers to channel their own episodes of anger in a godly direction. First, he gives a construct for godly anger based on the anger of God and Jesus. Godly anger is the "constructive displeasure of mercy." This framework of constructive displeasure consists of patience, forgiveness, charity and constructive conflict. He supports the framework by expanding on these four categories in surprising and helpful ways. Don't presume that you get it without reading the book!
With the framework of anger as the "constructive displeasure of mercy" in place, Powlison then offers eight key questions to help you to "take anger apart and put it back together again." These questions are intended to become an action plan the next time you get angry. He has a separate chapter on dealing with the exceptionally hard cases of anger stemming from abuse and other severe wounds that will not be healed completely on this side of glory. The book concludes with insightful chapters treating anger at the self and at God.
Good and Angry is a book that, with God's blessing and disciplined reflection, can offer a gospel centered path to transformation. Dealing wither anger effectively requires heart change that only God in Christ can provide you. Serious reflection on this material will lead you to look closely at your heart and seek the balm of the gospel for your sin, your guilt and your wounds. It may save you, your family and your church much heartache and pain. It is worth the investment.