Monday, April 2, 2012

Slow to Become Angry

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." (James 1:19-20 NIV)

When I read this in the epistle of James, I stopped: thoughts flooded my head about why I'm so often an idiot.  Then I thanked God for teaching me that if I respond to my son or my students out of unbridled anger rather than cool, premeditated discipline, it will never yield true righteousness and character.  There are three reasons for this.

1) Spontaneous anger reacts out of my own offense or having my immediate desires thwarted.  Its origin is not in the sin of my child or students trespassing against God's own righteousness and the standard he calls us to.  Human anger erupts when I, not God, feel offended or betrayed or disrespected.  All parental or teacherly authority may well be delegated and commissioned by God, but our concern must be reverence for the Lord, which will lead to reverence for his authorities and shepherds on earth.

2) Spontaneous anger does not train someone in what is truly righteous before God's eyes because it is capricious and unpredictable.  Rather than setting up a consistent pattern of expectations based on the spirit of the law and communication about it, with consistent discipline to enforce it, what provokes anger changes by my mood at the moment.  If I'm already having a bad day, a small slight may trigger an overly severe reaction from me when what was needed was simply to ask a question about the person's actions and attitudes.

When a child doesn't consistently know what is right or wrong or what consequences to expect, he may grow to cower in fear of his angry, vindictive parents.  He learns to fear man rather than to fear the Lord.

3) Being quick to speak and quick to become angry rather than taking time to listen to a child will inevitably fail to shepherd his heart toward an internalization of his need for the gospel.  He never learns why his behaviors are wrong, nor what beliefs, attitudes, or desires led him to act a certain way in the first place.  All he knows is that he did something daddy didn't approve of.  A good father asks questions and spends time with in conversations with his children.  His desire is, "My son, give me your heart" (Proverbs 23:26).  An embittered or unapproachable father will never win his child's trust and confidence.  At best the child will learn only to avoid certain behaviors because he knows they'll provoke his parents' ire.  As time goes on, when his parents see happy and placated, both the child and his parents will become content with a thin veneer of goodness when inside he has no lasting godly character.  Why?  Because that's exactly what his parents trained him for.  And as soon as he is free from their presence and out on his own, he will only let loose all that was kept inside.

Furthermore, a hot temper and a lack of loving, earnest conversation fail to embody grace to the child.  The parent may take the child to church every week and sing hymns in praise of him who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6).  Yet the child may never believe or receive God's grace because his parents don't really understand it either.  The gospel is given lip service around the home, but the child learns that it isn't something real and potent enough to make a difference in his relationship with his parents.  As he grows, the child becomes further entrenched in a life of external piety and works-righteousness rather than falling on his knees in awe of the all-forgiving, all-consuming, tender lovingkindness of God (Psalm 103).