We live in an angry world. Have you noticed that? Everyone is angry. Everyone has a short temper. We all lose patience with each other far more easily than we should, and there’s always someone to blame.
Anger isn’t wrong on its own, of course. Anger itself isn’t a sin. On the contrary, anger is useful in some instances to spur action. There are times when anger is necessary. Even Jesus got angry. But anger is one of those emotions you have to guard very carefully because what we tend to do as a result of our anger is often sinful. So, yes, anger can be useful in small doses, but who wants to live that way?
How do we survive in an angry world full of angry people? Do you answer anger with anger?
Most of the anger people in our world are feeling right now isn’t useful anger. It’s self-absorbed indignation. It’s hatred or rage because they feel they’ve been mistreated. Or they feel like life isn’t treating them fairly. Or its directed at a person or a people group. Or it’s anger for the sake of anger.
Some people just like to fight. And I’m not talking about cheerful debate. I mean out-and-out quarrelling. And they’re not happy until they can have a good old-fashioned knock-down, drag-out fight.
I try to stay away from people like that. But what happens when avoidance doesn’t work? What happens when you work with someone who likes to fight? What happens when you live with someone who likes to fight? What do you do then?
Today’s verse is Proverbs 15:1.
A gentle answer deflects anger,
but harsh words make tempers flare.
This is one of those verses that doesn’t really make sense straight off the bat. Frankly, from our perspective, if you answer an angry person with kind words, you’re going to be steamrolled. They will just roll you over and keep going, and all you will have accomplished is to provide them with a target.
Right? Has anyone else ever thought that about this verse?
But here’s the thing about human relationships: it takes two.
Relationships, whether they are romantic or friendships or familial or whatever, require that at least two people interact with each other. That’s what a relationship is. If you’re just by yourself, that’s not a relationship. You have to have someone else with you. Kind of like you can’t have a real conversation by yourself (unless you’re an author, and you’re just talking to yourself … but even then you likely are creating a conversation between two characters).
If you start a conversation with someone, the tone of that conversation doesn’t just depend on one person. It depends on both of you.
If both of you are saying kind things to each other, the tone will remain kind (and probably very mushy). If both of you are yelling at each other in anger, you both will continue to be angry. But if one person is angry, and the other remains calm and kind, eventually the anger will run out.
A speaker at a conference I attended said that the limit that one person can yell at another person without response is two minutes. Granted, that two minutes will feel like an eternity, but that’s as long as they can go without having someone yell back.
Anger is exhausting, emotionally and physically. And if there’s no anger in response, it starves. If someone pushes you and you push back, you will feed each others’ motion indefinitely. But if only one of you is pushing, eventually they’ll run out of steam. And they’ll stop.
And it’s the same thing with anger.
So if someone yells at you, don’t yell back. If someone pushes you (emotionally or physically), don’t push back, although if they physically push you, you might want to consider calling the police. Obviously I’m not talking about issues of domestic violence. That’s another topic altogether.
But in normal interpersonal relationships, answer angry words with kind words. It’s difficult. It’s not instinctive. Instinct is to snap back. But instincts are usually sinful because we are sinful people. Don’t run away from it. Yes, step back from it, but always answer, always give a reason for why you’re stepping back and be kind about it. And if see how long that anger lasts.