David Powlison’s latest book, Good and Angry: Redeeming Anger, Irritation, Complaining, and Bitterness, isn’t a comfortable read. It takes a magnifying glass to the heart. We get anger wrong, both the sinful and righteous kind.
Powlison—director of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF)—walks us through the experience of anger, how to change, and how to tackle the hardest cases. From apathy to road rage, he shows why the presence of sinful anger and absence of righteous anger lead to the need to define anger.
If you struggle with anger, I’m sure moving from angry to gentle sounds great. I’m sure it also sounds unobtainable. But with truth and grace, Powlison helpfully charts a course for change.
Good and Angry examines the many facets of anger from a biblical perspective to reveal where our responsibilities as Christians come into play. There’s nothing passive about anger. Have you acted out in sinful anger? Repentance is your first line of action. Have you witnessed a tragic display of hate and abuse? Love would have you extend a merciful hand and intercede, potentially in the form of constructive conflict. The point Powlison drives home is one every Christian needs to ponder: Where is our heart when we’re angry? Typically it’s in a state of selfishness; rarely is it grieved by the injustice of a situation, burning with desire to act on another’s behalf.
The reality of righteous anger and sinful anger presents a tension, and Powlison handles it well. On the one hand, anger in and of itself isn’t sinful. On the other, we’re almost always angry for sinful reasons. So how do we sort through the good and bad? Powlison cuts to the chase by looking at God’s Word. Whether selfishly or justly, anger sizes up a situation, decides it’s important, and declares what happened was wrong. And in that moment, we react according to what we most desire.
Your Anger and Your Bible
Two points in particular set Good and Angry apart.
First, this is the only book about anger I’ve read that doesn’t fall into the “self-help” category. As Powlison admits, you’ll find no “breathing methods” here. At its core, anger isn’t a sin or reaction to manage; it’s a capacity God’s image-bearers possess. It’s also one of God’s attributes that’s hard to fathom, like jealousy. The vast majority of contexts in which we experience anger or jealousy are scenes of heartbreak, outrage, or humiliation. And we’re most familiar with these forms of anger, Powlison notes, because we’re acting out of self-interest, not love.
What distinguishes Good and Angry is how Powlison handles anger from a biblical perspective. Righteous anger should lead to justice. Our model for this is the way God is angry; his anger drives him to act on behalf of his people, whether in discipline or protection. But anger, as the Bible defines it, has a climax: God he will exact his justice on the last day.
Second, anger can be scary. We all know personas difficult to be around because of the loud and colorful ways they explode in anger. But sinful anger isn’t scary when you shine the light of Scripture on it. Powlison treats anger like any sin, and points us to repentance. There’s no suppression of rage or calming treatments. Our union with Christ gives us the strength to change, even in ways we feel we’re wired. As someone who has the joy and privilege of counseling others, I can tell you there’s no greater first step to defeating sin than repentance. As simple as this sounds, it’s often overlooked for methods that make us feel more in control.
In the final chapter, Powlison points us to anger’s expiration date: “The final word is that anger is going somewhere. It will someday be perfected. Then it will be swallowed up in joy” (234). May this day come quickly.