When you are angry

I have recently been re-reading David Powlison’s book, Good and Angry. I found two ideas to be particularly helpful.

First, like a good biblical counselor, he reminds us readers to supplant sinful anger with a corresponding righteous replacement.  And he reminds us of the nature of God to do that, drawing attention to God’s interaction with Jonah as a reminder of the nature of God’s anger:

God responded [Jonah 4:1-3] by dealing gently (and pointedly) with Jonah’s anger, in one of the most comic scenes in the entire Bible.  He lets Jonah get mad about a shade bush that wilts, then says, “You care when a plant dies when it inconveniences you.  Shouldn’t I care if people die?” (Jonah 4:10-11, author paraphrase).  God gets angry — at Jonah, at Nineveh.  But God is slow to anger and quick to show mercy.

That last sentence is what I find so helpful — God is quick to show mercy.  My situation might be an opportunity to have righteous indignation, but it is probably much more likely that it is an opportunity to demonstrate mercy (and quickly).  That is an easily remembered question to ask when we are tempted towards anger — “what can I do right now not to be angry, but to be compassionate and merciful, like God is with me?”

Then Powlison also asks eight questions to ask when you are angry.  The first four relate to diagnosing and understanding your anger; the second four relate to turning the sinful anger into something righteous.  Here are the questions (he has extended discussions for each of these; I’ve just given the question and a very brief explanation of the question from Powlison; read chapter 13 for the full discussion):

  1. What is my situation?…When did you get angry?  What was going on?  What aroused your irritation?  Who were you made at?…Anger is about something.…So this first question asks what was happening to you…
  2. How do I react?…[This question] ferrets out the many ways that we express anger.…What happens in your thought life?…How about the physiological aspect?…What about your emotions?…Actions?…
  3. What are my motives?  Now ask, Why do you get angry?…[This question] answers why you get angry.  And it doesn’t look at your circumstances.  It looks at you.…
  4. What are the consequences?…The consequences are unpredictable.  But we live in a universe where everything we do has consequences, whether subtle or obvious.… 
  5. What is true?  What does the Bible say about [my situation and my reaction]?  The details aren’t in the Bible, but God’s words speak directly into this very situation.…
  6. How do I turn to God for help?…[This question] is not really a question—it’s an action step.  Do it.  Turn to him.  Ask for help.  Seek mercy.  Knock on the door.  Humble yourself.  Transact with God.…
  7. How could I respond constructively in this situation?  Repentance and faith lead to concrete changes in behavior, emotion, and thoughts.  Active love and obedience are just as specific as the sins described in Question 2.…
  8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?…Here we come full circle and find that godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often has an effect for good on the world.…

Those are good questions to ask and consider when tempted towards unrighteous anger.  And if you can’t remember that many questions in the moment, then go back to the first basic principle (which relates to Q7) — how can I, like God, show mercy and not anger in this situation?

Angry Man” by Steve Rhode is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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