Is Anger the Issue?

In James 1:19-20 we read the following:  You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  There’s an assumption that “anger” and how “anger does not produce the righteousness of God” is the main issue here. But is it the central issue?

Anger is often the downfall of many including myself. I find anger to be something that all too often percolates on the surface of my soul just waiting to boil over. And when it does it seems that nothing good is ever the result. That does not mean there isn’t a time for appropriate anger or ,as some like to call it, “righteous anger.” The most famous biblical example is Jesus’ anger at the money changers in the temple making the house of God a den of thieves and robbers instead of a house of prayer.  Paul also gets frustrated and lashes out at the Corinthian congregation for violating the intent and meaning behind the Eucharist.  So anger, as an emotion – under control – is not always unhealthy. For most of us however the issue is under control.  Nevertheless….

James’ point to his listeners is really three-fold;  1) Quick to listen, 2) slow to speak and 3) slow to anger.  It could be concluded that the issues behind anger may indeed be our lack of ability when it comes to listening and speaking. Many times anger is a result of misunderstood words or actions.  What we think we observe is not necessarily what is real.  What we think we heard is not always the point of the conversation.  Often we react to our perceptions instead of seeking clarification or understanding. In conversations we often fail to actively listen instead we simply bide our time until it’s our turn to talk.  Consequently we miss entirely the person’s point.  In personal relationships it is extremely important that we learn good listening skills and be patient when what we often want to do is interrupt or lash out with stinging words and insults.  I submit, as I believe James does, the consequence of poor listening and hastened speech is anger. If we can get the first two elements right anger is often put aside and finds no place to surface.

It’s also important to note  that “anger does not produce the righteousness of God.” Whatever situation James is referring to here he makes it abundantly clear the kind of anger he is speaking about does not, will not and can not produce the righteousness of God. As the writer of Proverbs notes; “When there are many words transgression is unavoidable.”[1]  And James makes no caveat for “righteous anger” or justified anger. There’s no getting off the hook on this one. Anger does not reflect godly character or Christ-like demeanor.   I’m not certain James would say it NEVER does since he admonishes his listeners to be “slow to anger” but at least in this instruction to his readers, there appears to be no evidence for justification.

So, is anger the issue? It certainly seems to dominate these two verses. But as many of us know, later on James will spend a good deal of time talking about the “tongue” and how it creates its own folly. Consequently I believe the “anger” James is referring to is a symptom of poor listening and hastened speech. A three-legged stool that falters should any of the legs be missing.

[1] Prov 10:19a

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