I have a confession; I did not want to read another book on anger. I bought the book “The Heart of Anger: How the Bible Transforms Anger in Our Understanding and Experience” by Christopher Ash and Steve Midgley on Kindle and hesitated to read it. My resistance was that I had read many books on anger and thought, how can another book help me? Eventually, I decided it was time to start reading this book, and I was pleasantly surprised (and humbled) at how much I had to learn about anger.
The book is broken up into four parts. First, the authors look at the biblical portraits of human anger. Second, they look at the characteristic of God’s anger, and thirdly, they talk about how to defuse human anger. Lastly, they address finding joy in the peace of Christ.
If you have read a biblical counseling book, you will recognize the focus of this book on the heart. The heart represents the control center of a person, including our thoughts, desires, and will. Our external behavior is an expression of what is in our hearts. Our behavior (including how we do anger) results from the condition of our hearts. Therefore, the authors explored the workings of the heart. The authors provide many examples of people in the Bible who were angry and how we get mad in our world (i.e., traffic, parenting). They addressed how anger is expressed in church culture, from the pastor’s anger in the pulpit to the self-righteous anger of the congregation toward each other.
There are four triggers that they explore to understand human anger. They discuss love for control, a desire for possessions, the value we place on sexual intimacy, and the proud treasure of our reputation. Both the attaining and the loss in each category reveal anger. They say, “The triggers that set off anger vary. But the rage that is triggered always reveals in some way what the angry person truly values and treasures.” Although a silly example, they make a point when it comes to possessions, “at the very lowest level, even the words ‘it’s out of stock’ can make us reach for our swords in frustration: why is it out of stock? But I want it, and I want it now!”
Although these triggers can set us off to anger, the triggers are not the actual cause. Anger reveals something even deeper in the human heart. They argue that anger shows one’s attitude toward God. This attitude is that anger reveals the “desire to be God.” How so? They explain, “I have some belief about the way things should be-the way people should treat me, the things I should possess, the control I ought to extort-and it simply infuriates me when something happens to reveal to me that that isn’t the case.” Anger reveals that we want to be in control of our lives, that nothing should go wrong. In other words, “we create our own kingdoms and expect to rule in them. And we get angry when the exercise of our sovereignty is opposed.” The central premise is that our anger is directly connected to our sinful determination to be God. The reality is that we are humans who do not have all power or knowledge. This causes irrationality in our anger. We get angry based on inadequate and incomplete knowledge. We assume we know everything, but we live with this absence in our knowledge because we are not God. How often have I become angry when driving after someone was moving fast and cut me off in “my lane.” I do not own the road nor know what happened in that other driver’s heart. Maybe the person was an inconsiderate driver, but perhaps that person was rushing to the hospital to see a loved one. I do not know, but my default is to assume the worst. Instead of focusing on the other person, I would be better off looking at my responses to see what my heart reveals about my thoughts and desires.
One chapter in this book was particularly unique. The chapter was called “Anger and the Crowd” and explored Proverbs 22:24-25 ‘Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.” In this chapter, they talked about the cultural dimension of anger. Anger comes out of our hearts but is shaped by those around us. Our families, friends, and the culture around us shape what we get angry about. Those around us shape our values, and we get mad together. You can think of the anger in a protest and see how anger feeds off one another. They say, “Anger not only reveals the individual heart; it also infects the crowd.”
How do we deal with our anger?
The last part of the book addresses how to deal with anger. Although anger management can help diffuse anger temporarily, it does not have the power to change a person on the inside. Anger management tips can deal with the symptoms but cannot give new desires. Only Christ can change the heart, specifically, the desires underneath our angry outbursts. They direct the reader’s attention back to the gospel, “As you hear the gospel of Christ again and again, as it is opened up to you through the Scriptures in all its richness-the truth as it is in Jesus-what Jesus has done for you begins to change you. Christ begins to change your desires, to change what you most value, and therefore to change what makes you angry.” If our deepest problem with anger lies inside us, not outside, we need more than practical tips; we need spiritual power to change our thoughts and redirect our desires. They also discuss how Christ brings new power, peace, love, wisdom, and humility.
This book addressed a lot of various angles on anger that I had yet to consider. I appreciate that the authors did not overpromise (total victory) on how to deal with anger but rather pointed readers back to the only true hope, the saving and transforming power of Jesus Christ. This book will help you think about why you get angry and direct your heart to find peace and strength in Christ to help you with your anger.