David Powlison’s Good and Angry is a powerful book. In the book Powlison dives deep into what anger is and then gets very practical about how to biblically deal with your own anger issues (issues, he assures us, we all have).
From the outset, Powlison makes it clear that anger, while dangerous, can be handled to produce good. “At its core anger is very simple,” Powlison says, “It expresses ‘I’m against that’” (39). Powlison says that each of us handles anger differently. Some of us freeze over, some of us quietly brood, some of us simmer, some of us explode. Powlison encourages us not to look at the way others mismanage worse than us, but rather, how do we mismanage anger? Each type has their own blind spots.
Powlison then dives into anger itself. Anger is about our displeasure toward something, so what are we displeased with? And why? How are we justified? Unjustified in our anger? And what do I want to happen? Anger is physiological. As embodied beings, anger manifests itself in us physiologically. How is it impacting me when I’m angry?
Powlison then dives into mercy, what he calls a constructive displeasure, or constructive anger. When the constructive displeasure of mercy is functioning as it ought, it has four characteristics: patience (a wonderful biblical synonym of patience is “forbearance”), forgiveness (which is “mercifully unfair” (80)), charity (a spirit of magnanimity), and constructive conflict (“Mercy is not a free pass. It is an invitation to turn and repent” (94). All of these fundamentally point to the work of God and his righteous response of anger to our rebellion. “The constructive displeasure of mercy means the redemption of the world” (102). Powlison walks through how God’s anger works: through his righteous and holy response to our sin, to him taking his wrath upon his son on the cross. He concludes, “God’s wrath is your hope. God’s wrath is my hope. We don’t often hear that, but it appears everywhere in the Bible. Wrath is our hope because love masters anger” (121).
The final portion of the book steps back and helps us move through analyzing our own anger. Powlison uses James 4:1-12 to help us analyze our own anger issues. At the heart of this analysis is James’s own analysis of his hearer, that they are fighting and quarrelling because of their “desires that battle within” them. In other words, if we have an anger problem (which we all do), we have a malformed desire problem. In other words, we have a heart problem. Significant in digging into this question is the ability to analyze my own motives. The issue isn’t what has happened with me, but is my heart and my heart’s motives and desires in the midst of any given situation. Key questions to ask myself when in a moment of anger are: “what do I want?” “what do I fear?” and “what do I most love?” (154-55).
Powlison concludes with a strong word of hope. God is in the process of changing us and reshaping our heart. Our problem, Powlison says, is that we tend to talk to the wrong person in the midst of our anger – ourselves. But when we turn and talk to our Good Shepherd, we will experience hope and change.
I’m so grateful for this book. It is a profoundly biblical and wise book with both subtle and profound insights. I know I have been impacted by the book personally and will both turn to it in the future for personal use and as a resource for others who struggle with anger.