A Soft Word Turns Away Wrath... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
November 1, 2016

A Soft Word Turns Away Wrath...

Proverbs 15:1 -- “A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Wise people learn from others; some learn only from their own experience; fools won’t learn. Here is how a large friend of mine learned from experience that harsh words stir up anger. Driving to Penn State, keeping the speed limit, inspection up to date, he was pulled over by a State trooper. The trooper was looking for a car like the one my friend was driving. All he had to do was answer some questions, show his license and registration, and he’d have been on his way, but harsh words stir up anger. My friend greeted the trooper like this: “Whadya pull me over for? I wasn’t breaking the speed limit!” So the trooper said, “All right, buddy, out of the car.” Getting out, he “accidentally” bumped the trooper. That got him, “Okay, up against the car and spread ‘em.” In the end, for resisting a police officer, he got a week in jail.

Here’s a story of a soft word turning away wrath. In 1970 my wife and I lived in Pittsburgh without a car. Then I got a temporary job teaching at Geneva College thirty miles away, meaning I needed a car three days a week, so a friend lent me his car. The first day I drove down the street we walked every day. Unfortunately, it was one-way, right past the police station. The ticket came in the mail, $55, a lot of money in those days, and a big chunk of our budget. So while I was at work, my cute wife, who looked about fourteen, went to the police station to pay the fine. The old officer at the desk looked at her, meekly ready to pay, and remarked, “That’s an awful lot, isn’t it.” “Yes it is,” she said, with just the hint of a quiver in her voice. “Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s just call it fifteen,” and he crossed out the fifty-five and wrote fifteen.

Wrath comes everyone’s way. To turn it away, answer softly. To make it angrier, answer harshly. It’s simple. The trouble is we answer before thinking, with reflexive irritation, or a habit of defending our honor, or desiring to justify ourselves, or determined to dominate. Then we answer in kind and make things worse.

Does a soft word always defuse anger? Sadly, no! David’s gracious words to King Saul several times defused his anger, but only temporarily. When reviled, Jesus did not revile in return, even praying as He was crucified, “Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34).” The crucifixion went ahead. 

“A soft word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” does not tell us which to aim at, turning away wrath or stirring it up, but it does tell us that in general to get more anger, answer with anger and to turn away wrath, answer softly. Our choice, over and over again!