Book Review: Good and Angry by David Powlison
Working through this adoption decision has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I’d go up and down, get better and then go backwards. Deep inside I was angry—at God because He “blessed” us with such hardship, at myself for being foolish enough to say yes to it, and at others—particularly my husband—for his leadership in it.
Whether explosive or simmering in the back burner, we experience anger—from within and without—on a daily basis. I have definitely dished out my fair share of the cold shoulder treatment. When I started reading this book, my husband and I were just entering marriage counseling. This book provided the counseling that I needed in between our sessions and has radically impacted me as I have personally processed it.
It’s a challenging read, but if you’re willing to seriously work through it, it has the potential to radically help you deal with your anger issues (and you do have them, whether you show it visibly or not!) it can help you deal with it in a godly way—whether it is anger against others, ordinary irritations, anger at yourself, or even anger at God—in a way that transforms us into Christlikeness.
Basic Premise: There is no way we can get rid of anger. As long as we live here on this side of heaven and evil still exists, we will run into anger in some form or fashion in our lives. To expect “peace on earth” at this point in time is not realistic. So the goal is not to eradicate anger. Rather it is learning how to experience and express anger in a godly way that will result in good rather than harm.
Key Takeaways and Actionable Steps:
Define your anger: At it’s very core, regardless of whether you express your anger through minor irritability or outright rage, all anger is saying one thing: “I’m against that.”
Dr. Powlison writes in chapter 4: “[Anger] 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.’ You encounter something in your world that crosses the line. Anger expresses the energy of your reaction to something you find offensive and wish to eliminate.” (emphasis mine)
Action: Think about a time you blew up or about an ongoing situation that triggers anger in you. Why is it important to you? What is the underlying issue that you oppose? Identifying the heart of your anger is the first step we can take so that it is no longer just a reaction.
Recognize your choices. There is an alternate way to express displeasure at a wrong that is constructive, loving, and even beautiful.
The keystone chapters (7 and 8) of this book present a beautiful vision of what godly anger looks like. Our angry responses are either destructive—tearing down others and our relationships, making them worse, or constructive—preserving relationships even as we attack the wrong done. Godly anger shows displeasure—it is not neutral in the face of wrong—but it does so in a way that builds patience, forgiveness, charity and constructive conflict. Knowing this gave me great hope that there is another way.
Action: So often, our anger is not righteous, but self-righteous. I want to marinate in the wrongs I think were done to me. The hard action to take is to recognize that there is another way to deal with this—one that will require humility. Though the book gives far more helpful thoughts, it boils down to this: if we are serious about changing our situation, we need to be willing to humble ourselves before God so that He might show us how to express our anger in a constructive way. Like a bull in a china shop, I was out of control. I needed to submit my heart to His way, not my own—which clearly has not worked.
Rethink your anger: It is possible to take apart your anger and put it back together.
Identifying your anger by name and recognizing that we do not have to repeat the cycle is the first steps. But Dr. Powlison does not stop there. He gives eight questions for us in chapter 13 to help us process through these thoughts. These questions are worth the price of the book! It was like having a professional counselor sitting with you and helping me take apart and understand my anger—and a new way out.
Action: Take some time to work through your situation humbly before God by asking yourself these questions. To dismantle your anger, consider:
1. What is my situation? Describe what made you angry.
2. How do I react? Describe the impact this situation had on your thoughts, your bodily responses, your emotions and your subsequent actions.
3. What are my motives? Digging into this question will be hard but it is the mother lode of insight.
4. What are the consequences? Sinful responses will always create consequences, even if you get what you want. For example, you may be victorious but harm your relationships with others, winning the battle but losing the war. It is humbling to recognize and admit your part in the problem, but it is also from this posture that God can then begin to work and change us.
To move toward resolution and hope, ask yourself:
5. What is true about God? This actually is the linchpin towards a solution. We get angry because we have forgotten God in our situation. Recalling to mind the truth of who He is in the midst of our anger orients us towards a different path than the one our sinful natures will take.
6. How do I turn to this God for help? From simply expressing faith in these truths to confession for our sin, from crying out for help in changing our response to rejoicing, this is an action step towards God. Responding to God gets the ball rolling in the right direction.
7. How could I respond constructively in this situation? Our ability to deal rightly with those we struggle with is preceded by our response to God (question 6). Our horizontal relationships with people and our world will bear the fruit of our vertical relationship with God. When God orients you to see Him, we then can see options with others we may not have seen previously.
8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience? Just as there are consequences to our sinful choices, there are fruits that come out of our faithful and obedient choices. Though God is not obligated to grant these, these choices open the possibility to blessing through obedience.
How This Book Changed Me: As I shared earlier, I started reading this book when I started marriage counseling. Since our adoption, my husband and I have watched the stresses of caring for Anah erode our relationship so badly that we found ourselves more like roommates rather than teammates and partners. Unhealthy patterns of relating triggered hurtful responses from both of us. It was so easy for us to blame the other person for the state of our marriage.
But as our counselor has repeatedly reminded us, the only way to stop repeating this destructive cycle is to choose a different path. We’ve tried the “easier” routes—more regular date nights, counting to ten, and all that. But these were all surface fixes. They do nothing to address my heart, the fountain from which all this junk was coming out. Putting pretty plants over a sewer is not going to purify it. You need to deeply root out the impurities.
On my own, with my own limited and sinful bent, I do not know how to do this. This book stepped in with the guidance I needed to delve into the hard and deep places. It helped me to identify the wrong I have struggled with and reacted against and give it a name. That alone started me on a different track.
It also forced me to deal with the only thing that I can change—myself. Though it is much easier to blame my husband for our problems, it will never improve our situation. When I operate out of blame mode, it actually takes the potential for change out of my hands, for I will then forever be waiting for God to zap him so that he gets the message. Though it was hard to face, looking at my contribution to our problems put the ball back into my court—where I could do something. As I recognized my own sinful responses and addressed them before God, He then was able to clear my mind to see the alternate path I might take.
Right after Christmas, my husband and I sat down to evaluate and plan for the upcoming year. It has been a long time since we’ve done that. We’ve tried, but it has always ended up in the same messy, hurtful, damaging discussions. But as the Lord used the things I have learned in this book to shape me, we were able to have a truthful and hard conversation of some of our problem areas without the usual blow-ups, accusations, and fallout. There was no sugar-coating of issues; I felt like we really dug in to some hard things and I don’t know if I could say I got the “Good” part down. But I was certainly able to manage and navigate through the “Angry” part far better—and that is a victory in my book. We came out of that time with a clean slate and in a far healthier place.
Should You Read This Book?: If you are looking for a book that will help you simply manage your anger so you don’t blow up, if you want an easy read with pop psychology, or if you are unwilling to take responsibility for your own choices—even if you have been violently sinned against—then this book is not for you. If you just want some easy fixes and practical techniques, you will be disappointed because there is a lot of hard work ahead. Neither will you hear words that encourage you to blame others and play the victim. It’s not going to feed those emotions to make you feel better. In fact, if you’re expecting this, the stance he takes may make you angry!
However, if you want a Scripture-saturated look at anger and are willing to face the sin within you as you respond to great wrong in your life, if you desire to humble yourself to the mighty hand of God to transform your heart, if you want to deal not with just the surface manifestations of anger and dig deeper to the heart level, then this book will help you to move forward in ways that will help you respond to the true wrongs in your life in a way that reflects the Gospel.
Bottom Line: It took me many months of disciplined reading, journaling, prayer, and wrestling, but the impact of this book’s message on my life has been immense. This book is so rich in Scripture and wise application of it. As I took the time to read and really process through the passages Dr. Powlison highlights as it pertains to my own life, the Spirit has done some deep work, work that only the Word of God can do. It made me face ugly things in my own heart—anger at myself and anger at God because I felt He disappointed me. But the fruit of this study has also resulted in deep healing—in my relationship with God, with my husband, and with Anah.
Anger, even if it is simmering slowly, will erode every blessing we have. This book, though a challenging read, gives me hope that there is an alternate to that well-worn, natural path we all take—one that will lead us to glory instead of regret.