Good and Angry, Powlison


Do you have an anger problem?  Are you an angry person down deep?  If you said no, you may not know yourself very well.  Now we have this excellent, insightful book from Dr. Powlison, a counselor of 40 years who in ~ 230 pages (4 Good and Angrysections and 17 chapters) skillfully merges sound psychological, biblical, and theological insight focused on this divine characteristic (wholly good, positive, constructive, and essential) and also a major, inherent human attribute that for us has both positive and negative outworkings (in our experience generally of destructive or mixed effect due to the ubiquitously, pervasively dysfunctional nature of our current condition).  Powlison attempts to help us understand what anger is, how we wrongly, destructively engage in it, and how it can be rightly done as we imitate God in His divine, unchanging nature, as solely lived out in human perfection by Jesus of Nazareth, the heaven-sent Son of God, 2nd member of the divine trinity, the God-man Himself.  This book was provided to me gratis by the publisher and Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an unbiased review.  Thanks you.


The first section (three chapters) covers our experiences of anger, telling of its powerful effect on us and our relationships, whether vertical or horizontal.  Our anger can negatively express itself in obvious ways such as murder, rage, arguing, seeking revenge, tantrums, and fighting or in milder, less obvious ways such as brooding, whining, sighing, irritability, bitterness, being critical / judgmental, complaining, or indifference.  But it can also manifest in positive ways as we react well and in a godly manner to genuine wrongs, injustices, etc.  We all do anger differently at different times, exploding, simmering, becoming embittered, repressing, etc. but we have our own primary forms of expressing it.  “Good and angry is the polar opposite of all forms of bad and angry, and it acts constructively in the presence of (actual) wrong.” p. 38

Chapter two consists of just one word “Yes.” as it answers the chapter title “Do You Have a Serious Anger Problem?”  an Important question to reflect on in becoming deeply honest and insightful if we are ever to admit that we need help and in clearly understanding the ultimate source of that help even though such help is generally manifest via natural means.

Chapter three addresses six general responses we adopt regarding the issue of anger, showing the degree of truth involved in each position assumed and how each approach does not get it right in full.  Sometimes we actually are more on the receiving end of anger done poorly, destructively, even dangerously, being more victims than victimizers (although every one of us is both in varying degrees at different times).  He quotes Francis of Assisi’s well-known prayer which is ok I suppose but rather bland and lacking in biblical comprehensiveness or insight.

In section two (chapters 4-10, 80 pages) Powlison attempts to define and help us understand anger.  He asserts that anger is essentially being “against that”.  “The underlying essence is the negative evaluation: active displeasure toward something that is important enough to care about.”  arising from the fact that we are moral beings as we attempt to discern, judge, and forcefully act in a corrective manner on what we believe is right, fair, good, and just in personal, social, or divine affairs.  It is “’the moral emotion’ because it makes a statement (based on a judgment) about what matters.” that “something we think important is not the way it’s supposed to be”.  He also questions whether anyone would want to live in a world lacking the correctives of solidly based, well-informed, objectively real and realistic moral judgments.  When these judgments are wise, good, and solidly based in reality, they can be powerful correctives in human affairs.  But our pervasive problem is the faultiness, subjectivity, and imperfection of our judgements and in our clear understanding of the unchanging moral code which has been both divinely implanted in us and seconded, reinforced by genuine divine revelation (accept no substitutes for that).

Chapter five shows that our souls (the indirectly observed essence of our will, desires, character, personality, thought-life, etc.) impact our bodies (human physiology as that being more available to scientific analysis) since we are inseparably (until death) integrated beings, body and soul united and affecting each other, with soul the primary actor.  Anger, a soulish quality, manifests itself physiologically, whether expressed, repressed, or some combination of those.  It is a passionate, high energy state of being that reacts to actual or perceived wrongs toward self, others, creation, or even cosmologically / existentially.  It is judicial (but generally taking place in an unfair, vigilante, kangaroo court in our minds), with plaintiffs, defendants, judge and jury, and execution of sentence, the aggrieved party (me) playing all parts but the defendant.  It is also military and god-like in requiring its desires to be enforced.  He lists a few penetrating questions regarding desires, motives, and intentions on page 54.  Want / must have my way because I’m the victim, I am God.  But “When God’s larger purposes are in control, the poisonous evil of anger is neutralized. Anger becomes the servant of goodness … becomes just, and … merciful to all who will turn and trust and be conformed to his image.”

Chapter 6 Powlison assets that anger is both inherently natural but also learned from role models as reinforced by habits.  Anger is “the fighting … justice … the deliver the oppressed from evil emotion (since) … All of us come wired with a sense of justice” something which can be executed well or poorly.  “To respond constructively to trouble is a fine art, gained through long practice.”

The next two chapters, “Constructive Displeasure of Mercy” helpfully explicate “How can displeasure at wrong become an expression of faith in God, and then an expression of love for people?” following Jesus’ many examples and teachings in the canon of Scripture received from His hand.  In His deliberate mercy toward us and in wisdom and love He justifies ungodly persons (all of those divinely chosen in eternity), transforming and redeeming His perfect displeasure and just condemnation of us into a thing of beauty and truth, effecting “love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be”.  Mercy is “how we love in the face of something wrong” acting wisely, skillfully, and constructively as the situation demands.  The key aspects of this mercy are patience, forgiveness, charity, and constructive conflict as lived and seen in the earthly life of the eternal Logos, the Word made flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God.  Patience is acutely aware of wrong, but is long-suffering, forbearing, wise in reaction, and slow to anger in the face of evil / wrong vs. the quick and easy out we are always tempted to take.  Forgiveness, the willingness to not get even, is of two parts; a thoroughgoing attitude before God that refuses to hold anything against anyone (Mk 11:25) and secondly a transactional forgiveness which confronts, as wisdom dictates according to the person / situation, the wrong with skill, understanding, and love. It consciously acts unfairly in mercy toward wrong, even as God “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” Ps 103:10. “To fear God is to wake up (and know clearly and well) who he is, to know my (utter) dependency on him, to realize that his opinion of me is the (only) opinion that (really, finally) matters, to (know and) feel my vulnerability before him.  He is (perfectly) good …  I am not.”

Next is charity.  In contrast to our powerful, pervasive tendencies toward vindictiveness and revenge, charity generously does good toward and to someone who acts in an objectively evil manner, while refusing to discount its fundamental evilness in light of eternal standards of right.  “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven … You must therefore be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect” Jesus of Nazareth as quoted in Mt 5:43-44, 48.   God requires this perfection of being of all but especially of His redeemed children, something in process in us but to be fully, certainly realized for all so redeemed!  In stark contrast to retaliatory motives, thoughts, or actions, we are required to “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all … live peaceably with all … never avenge yourselves … (since) Vengeance is mine (alone), I will repay, says the Lord … if your enemy is hungry feed him … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” Rom 12:17-21.  What a demanding calling – wow and ow!  A good, but (of course) imperfect, example of such a man was Abraham Lincoln, perhaps the most generous, fair, magnanimous, and forgiving President this nation has ever had, and partially, perhaps largely, why he is held in such high esteem by those who know their history.  Those qualities, accurately documented by Doris K. Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals”, reflected in that man the things that Jesus taught us by His life, teaching, and self-sacrifice on our behalf, of the hard realism of charity.

Finally, there is constructive conflict.  “Patience makes you hang in there through the process.  Forgiveness makes you let go of getting even or even holding on to bitterness.  Charity makes you generous (to the undeserving … these qualities) make you the right kind of tough, able to do (this final) fourth mercy as needed.  This displeasure of mercy enters forcefully into conflict in order to redeem… (it) is not a free pass … (but) an invitation to turn and repent.” revealing the God Who is Who “will show mercy on whom I will show mercy … slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness … (and) who will by no means clear the guilty.”  Ex 33:19, 34:6-7.  His mercy is not niceness, but rather infinitely costly to Him, done on our behalf to His glory alone.


Overall this was an excellent, helpful, deeply insightful, penetrating, biblically faithful approach to a problem that has affected us humans ubiquitously, pervasively throughout our history.  Excellent and outstanding – 4.9 stars.  Well worth your investment of time, thought, money, reflection, and sanctifying change.

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