Jonah was an angry man. The reluctant prophet of Israel, sent to Nineveh, was so reluctant because he was so angry. Or, so says Jonathan Parnell who writes the chapter on anger in a new book, Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins (ed. Marshall Segal; Desiring God, 2015). As a way of highlighting the value of the book, I’ll take a few moments to highlight Parnell’s excellent essay.
After introducing the angry prophet, Parnell offers three descriptors of anger. 1) Anger is among the most widespread sins. It is so widespread because it was one of the first evidences of the fall in the world. Cain was angry before he killed his brother (see Gen 4:5). 2) Anger is the most deadly of the seven deadly sins. Jesus points to anger as murder for a good reason (see Matt 5:21–22). 3) Finally, anger is not always sin. God gets angry but never sins––he is slow to anger (see Ex 34:6). Therefore, there is such a thing as righteous anger.
With these descriptors in mind, especially the point that some anger is not sin, Parnell helps us diagnose the cause of anger. “What do you have to be angry about?” is the question that we must ask (p. 40). To this question, Parnell notes that love is the answer. That is, “What we have to be angry about can be reduced down to one issue: love.” (p. 41) We must analyze our loves if we want to understand and correct our anger. Parnell states well:
Anger is how we respond to whatever threatens someone or something we care about. How we perceive and respond to reality has to do with what we value. Anger is love in motion to protect the object of our love. If we want to know what we have to be angry about, we should look to the objects of our affection. And if we want to know when anger is sinful, we look for how our loves have become distorted (p. 41).
Not only, then, does anger reveal the disorder in our hearts, our “disordered loves” as Augustine called them, but it also reveals the stupidity in our hearts. Parnell comments,
Sinful anger, therefore, is inherently stupid. It happens when we misperceive reality as unacceptable, when we are so blinded by our self-consumed loves that we want to annihilate anything that doesn’t serve us. Sinful anger happens when, instead of imitating God we try to play God by assuming the right to draw the lines, defining what should or should not be. In sinful anger, we respond in a manner disproportionate to the facts, forcing everyone around us to interpret the world on our terms, based upon what we love most––which is too often the object in the mirror (p. 42).
For Christians anger must not only be understood but also healed. As Parnell states, “The end of our anger only comes by shalom in our souls––a recalibration of our greatest love and devotion.” In order to achieve this recalibration, Parnell gives three wise steps: analyze your anger early, feel ridiculous for your ridiculousness, and remember and imitate the (righteous) anger of God (pp. 43–47). As you can see, Jonathan Parnell proves a wise guide for us into the unseemly places of our hearts so that we might truly repent of our anger and find the “shalom in our souls” that only Christ can bring.
Parnell’s chapter is one of seven in Killjoys, a book highly recommended for its devotional and pastoral value.