David Powlison’s book Good and Angry is an outstanding resource on anger. It does a good job balancing and summarizing the biblical teaching about anger – God’s and ours. In chapter five Powlison noted the truth that our anger isn’t just a “thing” or an “it,” but something we do as humans. Here’s a summary of Powlison’s explanation:
- Your body operates in the agitated mode. Anger involves physiology and anatomy. It has a marked bodily component, obvious in the more dramatic forms of anger. A general nervous tension pervades your body. Your adrenaline surges. The muscles in your face and chest – maybe your fists too! – clench. Your stomach churns. The sympathetic nervous system fires up. You actually feel hot, as blood rushes to your muscles preparing you for action. Your face gets red….
- Your emotions operate in the hot displeasure mode. Anger is a feeling of distress, trouble, and hatred. When someone says, ‘I’m angry,’ we usually think first of an emotion of intense displeasure. Your emotional equilibrium is upset, not calm or happy. When you don’t like what’s going on, anger adds the emotional charge that says, ‘I really don’t like that!’ …Anger is a passion….
- Your mind operates in the judicial mode. Anger actively involves your thought life. …When you’re mad, an intense mental conversation takes place. …Anger involves pointed, articulate attitudes and judgments that express the criteria by which you evaluate something as acceptable or unacceptable. …In fact, a microcosm of the criminal justice system plays out in the courtroom of your mind. You play all the prosecuting roles simultaneously…. [But the] trial is rigged…the verdict is predetermined. [The other person is guilty as charged.]
- Your actions operate in the military mode. Anger doesn’t only operate in your body, feelings, and mind. It breaks out into behavior. And that behavior – whether words or deeds – is about conflict and combat. Anger goes into action as a military operation. It’s about winning or losing, identifying enemies and allies, attacking and defending.
- Your motives operate in the godlike mode. Anger occurs not only in your body, emotions, thoughts, and actions. It comes from your deepest motives. Underlying desires and beliefs are at work – always. …When anger goes bad, it’s because motives operate in the godlike mode. ‘I want my way. I demand that you love me on my terms. I will prove that I am right at all costs…. I want to be in control. You should obey me, listen to me, attend to my every want….
There’s obviously much more to the discussion, but these are some great observations on how we “do” anger. For better or worse – usually worse since we’re quite sinful – we all are angry sometimes. If you want to learn more about good anger and bad anger, how anger relates to the gospel, and what it means to fight against sinful anger, I highly recommend this book: Good and Angry by David Powlison.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015