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
Last week I mentioned David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New. Today I want to highlight part of it that is quite helpful in thinking of the nuts and bolts of sexual sin, whether it be adultery, pornography, homosexuality, or lust (and so on). Below are various motives at work in sexual sin, which I’ve edited for length. These motives are helpful for those who are fighting lust and other sexual sins:
- Angry desires for revenge. Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger. I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries. They had a big fight, and the man angrily went out and hired a prostitute. In retaliatory anger, the women went out and seduced her husband’s best friend. The erotic pleasure wasn’t necessarily the driving force; anger was. Though it’s rarely that dramatic, anger frequently plays a role in immorality. A teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents. A man cruises down the internet after he and his wife exchange words….
- Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, or valued through romantic attention. Consider the situation of a lonely and unattractive teenage girl who doesn’t necessarily enjoy sex. Why does she sleep around? It’s not because she longs for erotic pleasure. She sleeps around in order to feed her consuming desire to have someone care for her romantically and pay attention to her. It makes her feel loved. She is enslaved by the desire to get attention and affirmation. This is an extreme case, perhaps, but many people become sexually active at a young age because they feel pressure to be acceptable, they don’t want to be rejected, and they desire attention. Sexual behavior can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual cravings.
- Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase. Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response. The flirt, the tease, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires. Deeper evil desires are at work than just sex – the thrill and rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another.
- Anxious desire for money to meet basic survival needs. Sex makes lots of money for lots of people. The desire for money is greater than the desire for sex in this case. One difficult example is the case of a single mother who was in desperate need of money. Her sleazy landlord offered her free rent in return for sexual favors. (Thankfully, this woman refused and her church family ended up helping her financially.)
- Distorted messianic desire to help another person. Sometimes people play the rescuer-savior and they sleep with someone because they feel sorry for that person’s loneliness, rejection, and abandonment. It is a sexual sin, but it is fueled by a warped desire to be helpful, admired, and to “save” a person.
- Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life. Sexual sin often serves as an escape valve for other problems. Consider a man who faces extreme pressures in the workplace. He and his team pull a few all nighters to get an important project done. They make it and he goes home completely exhausted. But he finds no relief in having the project done. So he revels in pornography and forgets his troubles. Lust is at work, but there’s more to it. He is looking for rest, and he sinfully finds it in erotic pleasure.
- Indifference, cynicism, ‘Who cares?’, ‘What’s the use?‘. A single student – a Christian – once confessed that she slept with a co-worker. She was working late and was tired after a long shift. She had no accountability that night and was somewhat attracted to her co-worker. He invited her over, and with a “what does it matter?” attitude, she accepted and sinned by sleeping with him. This is the sin of acedia – sloth, giving up, spiritual laziness, not caring, saying ‘whatever.”
There are, of course, other reasons why people fall into sexual sins. The point Powlison was making is that “sexual sin is symptomatic. It expresses that deeper war for the heart’s loyalty. We’ve looked at a handful of different ways the deeper war operates. There are other dynamics, too! But I hope this primes the pump so you learn to recognize more of what’s going on inside when red-letter sins make an appearance.”
The above-edited quotes are found in David Powlison, Making All Things New, p. 80-87.
Here’s a paragraph I appreciated from David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New.
“I’ve heard arguments against the biblical sexual ethic that say, ‘There are only six Bible verses that mention homosexuality,’ and then proponents wiggle the definition of homosexuality to exclude modern forms. This is mere trivializing of Scripture. Narrowing Scripture’s relevance to a verse count or the specific form of ancient practices neither establishes nor disestablishes right and wrong regarding sexual acts. God teaches us by identifying the main principle, giving us representative examples, and then expecting us to put in the effort to understand the ‘things like these’ (Gal. 5:21) that are also obviously wrong” (p.38).
David Powlison, Making All Things New, forthcoming.