Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

   but he who has a hasty temper exalts a fool.

Proverbs 14: 29

Our culture’s ultimate source of knowledge, Wikipedia, defines anger in this manner,

“The emotion anger, also known as wrath orrage, is an intense emotional state. It involves a strong uncomfortable and hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat.”

Well, I agree with this except that it seems as if the part about provocation, hurt, or threat no longer applies, for people today become demonstrably wrathful without any sort of real provocation beyond what should produce mild irritation or slight annoyance. Today anger is a tool that is used to overwhelm, to oppress, and to defeat others. Although the use of this powerful emotion in this manner is prevalent today, I submit for consideration that it has always been employed in a similar manner. The writer of this proverb was speaking about something that was both cultural observation and probably personal experience. Almost all people from the dawn of creation have given in to anger’s ugliness and destructive presence.

Yet, that is not how it needs to be. There is another way to engage with people, even with people who really do tend to cause our blood to boil. Jesus certainly felt anger at the way that people were corrupting their worship of God and at the oppressive actions of those in power. God has expressed His anger at the disobedience and selfishness of people. Throughout the long history of Christ’s church, our ongoing disregard for God’s call to live in a just, loving, and other-focused manner has caused a form of anger to well up in numerous righteous followers of Christ. God’s anger, whether displayed by Him or by Jesus is tempered by a desire to bring about redemption and reconciliation to God’s way of truth and righteousness. Thus, the Lord demonstrates His understanding of the people with whom He is angry and with the circumstances that have caused their sinful actions. The Lord knows each of us as an individual, and He enters into our lives with our specific and personal identities in view even when He is displeased with what we are thinking, saying, and doing.

If we truly desire to break the distressing cycle of angry engagement in our world today, we can do nothing less than to follow our Lord in seeking to understand where others are coming from when they cause strong negativity to arise in us. We must seek to know them as people and to recognize that even the most troubling of personalities bears the touch of the Creator’s hand in who they are and in how they function. That does not mean that all actions and words are acceptable or that we should allow all of them to exist without comment, response, or rebuke. The righteous, the loving, and the God-honoring thing to do is often otherwise. Yet, even the sternest of responses needs to be tempered by grace, redemptive love, and a form of understanding that comes by and through the Spirit. When we live in this manner by abandoning the destructive tactics of our world, we have chosen to follow Christ in a manner much like the one that He taught us in the seventh beatitude,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5: 9 

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Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,

but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.

Proverbs 14: 29

 

Anger is often a fast twitch sort of response. Everything can be calm one moment and then with the suddenness and the force of a storm that is driven by a micro burst of wind, all is fury and hot-blooded response or reaction that is poured out upon whoever is close at hand. Sometimes these outbursts are over in a few minutes and some last for hours and days. It is there suddenness, unpredictability, and nearly violent nature that make them so hard on both the recipient and the perpetrator. Anger of this sort is never good, useful, or beneficial. It is always destructive as it does leave damaged relationships and broken trust behind in its wake. Even when the people involved state that all is good between them, there is a cost to be paid for these encounters.

 

When Solomon preserved this particular proverb, I would guess that he was recording something that he had experienced in his own life. He also knew that the second line was especially true, for the most profound result of an outburst of anger such as this is that in these situations the ungodly human attribute of folly or foolishness is placed on a form of pedestal as if it were worthy of praise and adoration. For some people this sort of explosive anger becomes a form of expression that is used as a tool to gain power over others and so to dominate them. This is almost as far away from a Christ-like approach to engagement in relationships as people can go; so, this form of expressed anger takes people deeply into that part of our world where evil lurks and godless rebellion rules. This is dangerous territory to visit, and frequent travel there can lead to relational and even to literal death.

 

That is why understanding is so important in the process of overcoming explosive anger. It is important to know the impact of this sort of behavior, and acknowledging this reality also matters greatly. To borrow another proverbial expression, people are not rudderless ships. We do not need to respond to every impulse or emotional force that hits us or that comes upon us. We can make choices in this area of life so that we learn to control the feelings that fill us and that allow us to take charge of their expression. In general, this sort of control is achieved by slowing down the thoughts that start to race through the mind when we are involved in discussions with people who may hold a different point of view or perspective from ours. We need to listen and not react. We also gain control through caring about other people in a manner that reflects the way that Christ sees them. Thus, the understanding that helps to suppress and to manage anger is understanding of God and of His will and way. This is not always easy to achieve and this sort of control usually requires us to enter into repentance, a determined desire to change, and the accountability of others. It is a challenging road to take, but it leads us closer to the promise of glory that is ours in Christ.