Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (v. 19, NIV). Wow! I felt a jolt when I read these words for the first time in a long while. The contrast between this instruction and the behavior we see in the world around us right now is shocking. Some days it feels like the main rule of public discourse is literally the opposite: “Everyone should be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry.”
As we continue today’s passage, we read that Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires (v. 20, NIV). This is such a profound and complicated truth. Isn’t it true that sometimes anger sparks the motivation to do something about an unjust situation? Maybe so. Weren’t the civil rights protesters of the ’50s and ’60s angry? Didn’t they deserve to be? Isn’t that why they were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to build and maintain a movement? Was it anger that fueled the movement, or a fierce longing for justice? Was it a deep, abiding faith that things could be better? Maybe some of all of that.
In my experience, anger is not an especially effective way of convincing others to take the path that I consider to be righteous. More often anger begets anger in return, or at the very least defensiveness. It cuts off real communication. It stunts creativity. Anger is more likely to cause people who disagree to dig in their heels or run away. It rarely leads to carefully considering the various points of view and working out a solution together. Yet, in the moment, it is hard to remember that there is a different, better way.
When you are steeped in anger, what helps you find the next step to take beyond it?
God, help me pause. Open my ears to listen. Slow my tongue. Calm my heart. Help me live into the next step of love and concern. Amen.