Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: A Small Book About a Big Problem

A Small Book about a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace
In a post-Fall world, there are no strangers when it comes to anger. Ed Welch's latest book, A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger,Patience, and Peace, seeks to address and tame this universal problem. I welcomed the idea of succinct meditations that could be read in under two minutes each. It was refreshing to drink deeply of the rich, Gospel-truths in which this book is rooted. I love that Welch didn't leave any stone unturned when it came to various manifestations of anger but included commonly overlooked habits including: sarcasm, grumbling, complaining, gossip, withdrawal, silence, indifference, envy, and jealousy. I appreciate that he didn't merely focus on outward behavior modifications but looked more deeply at the heart issues that drive anger, seeking to apply biblical truths.

Naturally, a short book with a limited word count presents certain limitations. Understanding these should help prevent disappointment and misunderstanding.  This book is largely about addressing the reader's anger. Although Welch mentions that sometimes our judgments are accurate and often contain some truth, he tends to focus on the undesirable aspects of anger, narrowly defining it as: specializing "in indicting others but is unskilled at both self-indictment and love" (pg. 11). This aims the focus of A Small Book About a Big Problem on the negatives and destructiveness of anger without giving attention to the fact that our propensity for anger is part of being made in the image of God, was corrupted by the Fall, and is in need of God's redeeming grace.

Several aspects of the book would benefit from further development. Welch notes that "There are times when we should speak out against the wrong, even when it was done against us" (pg. 13) and that we shouldn't excuse anger (pg. 118), but he doesn't clearly spell out when those times are, what circumstances surround it, or how one should go about it. Some guidelines would be helpful here.

When speaking of personal injustices, the focus is largely on the reader looking to and imitating Christ who entrusted Himself to the righteous Judge (1 Peter 2:18-23) and the good that God intends to accomplish through mistreatment. While Welch qualifies this with a short statement excluding violence and encouraging the reader to seek help when in danger, his overall emphasis on trusting God's judgments such that one need not take matters into his/her own hands leaves unanswered questions. Does "justice in the end" (pg. 54) mean that there is never justice in this world? Is this not the reason that God has placed authorities (both church and civil) over us? While Welch would advise others to seek outside help, at times, in A Small Book About a Big Problem, there doesn’t seem to be room to meaningfully explore these significant, sensitive issues. Excluding these important questions left me wondering, "Is this treatment of anger careful enough when it comes to the mistreatment received at the hands of others or does it have the potential to leave the most defenseless people vulnerable?" Such delicate matters necessitate more words!

Is there ever a place for good/righteous anger? Is all anger entirely bad, save God's? Can human anger be redeemed as we grow in Christ-likeness? After examining Exodus 33:1-3 and 12-17, Welch compares human anger with God's anger and remarks:

"It is hard to imitate. It is possible but very hard. At some point you want to aim for this: 'Be angry and do not sin' (Ephesians 4:26). For now, follow Jesus's example and have zero tolerance for all anger that reacts to personal slights or attacks" (pg. 123).

This is another statement that left me wanting.

When exploring a topic as volatile as anger, short meditations seem to fall short of sufficiently exploring the many questions raised. All in all, A Small Book About a Big Problem is a good start, but ideally, it would be paired with another resource to provide some needed balance.

*Many thanks to NewGrowth Press and Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of A Small Book About A Big Problem in exchange for my honest opinion!

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