“Scorners set a city aflame, but wise men turn away anger…A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back…Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him…An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.” Proverbs 29: 8, 11, 20, 22.
A city, a people, an organization, can sow seeds of destruction internally as well as invite destruction from external sources. As I’ve pondered the first of the above proverbs, I’ve thought of both external and internal scenarios. In the ancient world a city that was consistently scornful of its neighbors might incur their animosity and wrath - resulting in the city’s destruction. It’s stupid to be scornful of the people around us, it’s arrogant, it’s prideful, and it promotes not peace (internally or externally) but chaos, anger, and eventual destruction. When we scorn others we scorn the image of God, no matter how fractured it may be; we scorn that image in others and we scorn that image in ourselves. When we scorn others we scorn God and when we scorn God we scorn others.
I like the directness of “A fool always loses his temper…” It is akin to a warning on a high voltage electrical wire, “If you touch this you will die.” We may focus on the word “always” and think it doesn’t apply to us, but we are better off not to do this lest we deceive ourselves – this deception can lead to us thinking that as long as we’re not “always” angry that we’re fine, and that deception will lead us to more and more anger – when we give ourselves permission to be fools we will become fools. When we give ourselves permission to sin “occasionally” we will sin more than “occasionally”. The word “fool” in the Bible, and in Proverbs especially, is a spiritual and moral class that is opposed to God – it is a class on a downward trajectory, a trajectory of death and darkness.
The warning of “There is more hope for a fool than for him” (a man hasty in his words) is stark. It is similar to the warning of Proverbs 26:12, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” It is bad to be a fool, it is worse to be a man wise in his own eyes and to be a man hasty in his words – there is more hope that a fool will change his ways than that a prideful person will become humble and that a man hasty in his words will become thoughtful and reflective. When we consider the characteristics of a fool (see Proverbs 26:3 – 12 to get the punch of 26:12) and how hopeless fools are, to say that a man who is hasty in his words or who is arrogant and prideful has less hope than a fool ought to sober us up when we consider our own pride, vanity, and propensity to be hasty in our words. It ought to frighten us.
This can be a hard lesson to learn in a society that talks more than it thinks and in which people shout to be heard. There are many words in our society but little content and most of the words have the lifespan of a mayfly – which means more words must be generated to hold our attention. Hasty words often lead to anger and frustration; when we’re talking we’re not listening; when we’re hasty in our words it makes it difficult for others to listen to us.
An angry person keeps the pot boiling, creating an atmosphere of strife and fear and anxiety, this person also abounds in and perpetuates transgression – sin. It isn’t just the anger itself that is sin, it is the effect of the anger on others, the violation of others, the harm inflicted on others. God’s desire for people is shalom; peace and wholeness in His image. Anger, in our context, is a destroyer of wholeness and peace, it is a disrupter of the shalom that God desires for individuals, families, and communities. We ought to fear being agents of destruction when God desires us to be agents of peace; we ought to fear our capacity for pride and anger and for producing hasty words.
We are called to be people who live in the wisdom and peace of God, and people who disseminate that peace and wisdom in a foolish and mad world. The world is mad and is getting madder…it is incumbent on us to learn the way of the peace of Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”