David Powlison had been on my “gotta get around to reading him” list for quite some time now; I figured he’d been name-checked by too many people I respect to not be worth my time. And now, courtesy of the good people at New Growth Press, I have his latest. Short version: I was not disappointed.
David Powlison. Good & Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness. 256p., $17.99, New Growth Press/CCEF.
Although it’s reiterated throughout, the basis of this book is best encapsulated in its final chapter:
The presence of anger depends on the presence of evil. Wherever there is evil, you find anger. You find both the angers that are evil and angers that oppose evil. Where there is no evil, you find no anger.
This idea sets up the premise of the book: All anger, whether righteous or twisted, is based in a sense of justice. Anger can be good or bad, but it’s not indifferent; it’s always out to “right a wrong,” even when that “wrong” is based in our own selfishness—and more often than not, our selfishness is wrapped up in it somewhere.
At its core anger is very simple. It expresses “I’m against that.” It is an active stance you take to oppose something that you assess as both important and wrong. You notice something, size it up, and say, “That matters . . . and it’s not right.” . . . Every time you get angry (or don’t get angry) you broadcast what matters to you.”
At the same time, Powlison reminds us that anger can be “the constructive displeasure of mercy”—a genuine desire to make things right—and points us to the one person who got anger right: Jesus (and of course, by extension, the Father himself). “You can’t understand God’s love if you don’t understand his anger,” he says. “Because he loves, he’s angry at anything that harms those he loves.” With that, he draws a wider application for us:
The technical term for all this is redemption. Jesus was a redemptive troublemaker. . . . To actually make peace, where open wrong, hostility, and destruction now operate, is the hardest and best work in the world. It involves saying true words that some people might not like to hear: “That’s wrong. Let’s solve it.” It involves confronting evils, rescuing victims, calling wrongdoers to accountability: “You can’t treat people that way.” . . . But such merciful anger always maintains its sense of proportion, its perspective, and its constructive purpose.
However, most of our anger doesn’t fit that description, and we broadcast that anger with every part of our being—physically, physically, emotionally, intellectually. Therefore Powlison spends most of the second half of the book trying to get us to look at both why and when we’re angry, and how we deal with it. Eight questions he asks and re-asks are meant to help us break out of our anger and see it in perspective:
- What is my situation?
- How do I react?
- What are my motives?
- What are the consequences?
- What is true?
- How do I turn to God for help?
- How could I respond constructively in this situation?
- What are the consequences of faith and obedience?
There’s a lot of interactivity built into this book, so that users can apply it as a workbook for dealing with their own anger—because, to restate the entire text of Chapter 2, “Do You Have a Serious Problem with Anger? “Yes.” Powlison calls us to the hard, redemptive work of dealing with our anger—from everyday nonsense (which, nonetheless, happens every day) to the painful sins that can overshadow every part of our lives. It’s the work of choosing God’s side over our own, and it’s the work our “redemptive troublemaker” and Savior calls us to.