Ours is an offended society today. It seems to be a never-ending cycle in our news of someone who has said something that someone else considers offensive. The result is that the other person responds harshly to what has been said, which in turn stirs up more anger. I was listening to a radio show today and heard the host do his dead-level best to stir up as much anger as possible. Over and over again he spoke harshly against the things he was seeing commenting that our response should be anger and outrage. As I considered this proverb I began to realize that where we are going as a society is not good. It is getting to the point where we are unable to laugh at ourselves. Instead everyone just seems to be getting more and more outraged. That is why, at least for me, it was good to read this particular proverb today.
This proverb begins with an assumption. Something has been said that can in some way offend - or at least cause a strong reaction in someone's mind. It speaks of a "gentle answer" which of course precludes that someone has either asked something - or said something that deserves a response. The question then hangs in the air, "How are we going to respond." What is interesting about this is that we're not being asked about content - we're being queried about the spirit of our response.
A gentle answer turns away wrath. This is true when we are offended and want to offer a harsh answer to some way we've been hurt or offended. This requires wisdom. It also requires the work of God's Holy Spirit - or at least our dependence upon Him in these moments. We are at least reminded of the reward that we get when we choose to answer gently. This kind of answer turns away wrath. This word "wrath" indicates heat and rage. This is a person who is in the midst of hot displeasure or what the Bible calls, burning anger. This person is either on the edge of losing it - or - has already lost it. But a gentle, gracious answer will turn away this kind of response. How much we need this not just when we are angry and offended - but especially when someone else is this way. There are those times when someone is offended with us - and the situation can either turn more constructive - or it can get completely out of hand. If we respond to someone with harsh words - the situation is gone - but gentleness will often help the situation calm down and become far more profitable.
But some don't want to answer gently. They let their anger go - and harsh words begin to flow from their mouths. Some think to answer gently is a sign of weakness. Give 'em what they've given you, or they'll walk all over you. By the way, these are also the people who frequently wind up in shouting matches - and have a long list of people who know better than to try to deal with them unless they have to. Harsh words stir up anger. The word stir is an interesting word. It means to cause something to take off, to ascend, or to go to another level. The word for anger here is "aph" and it actually describes the flaring of the nostrils. It describes someone who is angry. The Hebrews spoke of those who had a long nose which meant they were slow to wrath and anger. Someone with a short nose was someone with a quick temper. When we answer with harsh words, the person hearing us will have their anger elevated - it will go to another level - it will cause them to have a short nose, i.e. a quicker temper.
I'm sure you've seen this. Someone begins an argument or voices their frustration. Rather than trying to understand, the second person just reacts - and away we go. I've watched things elevate quickly and have seen two people have their noses get shorter and shorter. Their anger grows - wrath is loosed - and soon a shouting match is the result.
Here is the end of the matter. Showing restraint is a good thing! Showing a long fuse on your temper is wise. We are very wise when we choose NOT to escalate an argument with the way we speak our words. When we choose to answer gently and with wisdom, we will find God often diffusing a situation that easily could have wound up as a major blow up between us and our friend or neighbor. So choose gentleness . . . I doubt you will ever regret it!