3: Slow to Anger

Or, The Defenseless Folly of Resisting Reality

October 16, 2022 • Sean Higgins

# Introduction

I can’t recommend everything in the heist movie of course, but in _Ocean’s 11_ Danny Ocean shows up unexpectedly to his ex-wife and in their conversation she says, “You know what your problem is?” And he replies, “I only have one?”

If I only had one problem it would be *anger*. It developed, I wouldn’t say “matured,” in my early 20s. Not that I was never angry before that, but my dad was angry enough for the whole family and I mostly wanted to avoid the fallout of his fury. But when I started living away from home I continued the family business, and really started getting good and mad.

Mo has never been blind to it, and she has certainly born the brunt of it. I probably didn’t really reckon with it until Calvin was about 18 months old and such an angry tiny tyrant. He was mad about everything, and that made me more mad. We stopped taking him out for a while because Mo or I would end up in the van with his screaming self while everyone else finished their fun/food.

Then I read a short blog post about [adversarial fathers](https://dougwils.com/the-church/practical-christianity/adversarial-fathers.html) teaching their sons how to respond. It finally hit me, by God’s grace, that I was totally showing Cal how to respond to things he didn’t like. My childish temper tantrums were the problem, and I didn’t even have the excuse of being a child. I repented, I kept repenting, and I was also up close to some other people in my life that weren’t repenting, and started to get a clearer picture of the destruction that anger, both the loud and quiet-seething kinds, causes.

Proverbs has plain teaching about anger. But there is a proverb in Ecclesiastes worth starting with:

> Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
> for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
> (Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV)

The KJV has it, “anger resteth in the bosom of fools.” (Contrast it with wisdom resting in the heart of a man of understanding that makes itself known in the midst of fools, Proverbs 14:33).

In English the word *anger* means “a strong feeling of annoyance and displeasure, or hostility.” Angry men often want to plead the dictionary and claim that they are just “irritated” or “frustrated” but not angry. And maybe they can hide in some shades of meaning. But arguing about how you’re not angry is like trying to convince someone to focus on the smell of the air freshener in the porta-potty.

Anger is almost always a fool’s affection. It is a feeling with physical effect, red cheeks and loud mouth and dead eyes (see “angry looks” in Proverbs 25:33). The thing I hope to argue is that the antidote to anger is not no feelings, but getting our feelings to submit to what is true, right, and real.

To say that an angry man is a fool means he isn’t wise. And what keeps a man a stranger to wisdom? He lacks the fear of the Lord.

# The Reality of Values

I’ve been thinking about the objective nature of the world for a few months. It started as I was brainstorming ideas for Rhetoric class, and how Rhetoric often hovers around the discussion of beauty but truth and goodness ride the rails of objective standards. Beauty often floats in the wind of subjectivism. Beauty may be varied, but it’s not dependent on the beholder, or listener. There are real things that make it attractive, appealing, smelling good.

_The Abolition of Man_ by C. S. Lewis is a sustained screed against the skull and crossbones of subjectivism. It’s a prophetic word against the meaninglessness that follows when there is nothing external, transcendent for us to hold, measure, enjoy, or submit to. When we live outside the reality of values all that is left is *want*, and when wants are not met, we get *angry*.

A wise man fears the Lord. That includes revering His value and authority, yes. And fearing the Lord means receiving what He gives. It turns out that He is quite generous, a giver of good gifts, including wife (Proverbs 19:14), grandchildren (Proverbs 17:6), wealth (Proverbs 8:18), and more. He also gives the roll of the dice (Proverbs 16:33), the expected broken walls of laziness (Proverbs 24:30-34), and the relationship ruin of gossipy whispers (Proverbs 16:28). A wise man lives according to reality. He does not resist reality, and try to make up his own.

A goal of instruction is to give knowledge and understanding about how things work in the Lord’s world. Wisdom is skillful application of that knowledge, but it is also *skillful submission*.

This is why wisdom is also hating evil and pride and perverted speech (Proverbs 8:13), a strong negative affection because evil deserves to be hated. Wisdom laughs at the chronic know-it-alls who are sure the crash won’t come to them until it does (Proverbs 1:26). That’s how God made the world to work; depend on it. A wise man wants his heart to match the reality of values. Getting wisdom is the process of getting a better fit between our affections and the values, matching and ordering our loves to what is lovely. Love this not that, love this more than that.

An angry person is building sand castles on the wing of a plane at 30,000 feet going 700 mph and writing negative reviews of the pilot. An angry man thinks he knows better how things should work, and he forgets or denies or attacks reality as given by the Lord. He rages about how many cars on on the road. Get gets dyspepsia about when the food gets put on the table. The tone of voice in the kids’s “Yes, sir” makes him testy. At heart the angry man wants reality to bend to him. What a fool.

# Adult Fit Throwing

One thing I noticed while while gleaning the field of Proverbs for wisdom about anger is not just how many times anger is mentioned (12 by word count), but how many of those mentions are part of a phrase about “whoever is slow to anger.” Slow is not “quick to become angry” as in Ecclesiastes 7:9.

> Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
> but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
> (Proverbs 14:29 ESV)

This is true in terms of providence, and it is especially true in interactions with persons. When they come to complain at you or criticize you, consider:

> Good sense makes one slow to anger,
> and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
> (Proverbs 19:11 ESV)

When criticized, fairly or not, when mocked, in fun or not, show *glory* by not getting angry. You hold onto reality. If the comments are false, why get mad? They won’t stick. If they are true, then why deny it? Either way it should take more than a comment to knock your joy train off the tracks. Whether face to face, or on Facebook, getting angry shows who the fool is even if you are technically right.

This makes you a non-starter; you are an empty box of matches.

> A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
> but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
> (Proverbs 15:18 ESV)

> A man of wrath stirs up strife,
> and one given to anger causes
> much transgression.
> (Proverbs 29:22 ESV)

Neighborhoods (Democratic cities) and institutions and households and generations are set on fire. Anger leads to other sins: *slander* to make someone else look bad rather than yourself, and *laziness* to avoid taking responsibility for your problems.

When we get angry, we are not only self-referential, we are self-reverential. When we communicate that anger, we want others to fear us. We take a throne that does not belong to us. We’re demanding the glory without actually exhibiting it. Fast to adult fit throwing makes us unworthy, and makes us vulnerable.

# Walls Like Jericho

I am indebted to [a sermon by Doug Wilson on the subject of self-control](https://dougwils.com/the-church/s8-expository/themes-proverbs-self-control.html), in which he targets anger rather than lust or gluttony or laziness. He compares the angry man to one who is pushed around by circumstances, his buttons are big and accessible and have a sensitive trigger. He is like a man whose walls are broken down.

> A man without self-control
> is like a city broken into
> and left without walls.
> (Proverbs 25:28 ESV)

Wilson says “you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall.” Where does that self-control come from? It comes from the stability and strength of living according to reality as given by God.

The angry man is defenseless, both because his anger doesn’t have basis in reality and because it leaves him open to further attack. He has walls like Jericho after the trumpets played.

# Angry Little Impotents

The way of the modern world deceives us in many ways. If we don’t use technology as a tool that helps us match reality, but employ tech to manipulate all our annoyances out of the way, we learn habits of impatience, habits of blame rather than responsibility. A farmer would be an obvious fool for getting angry at a seed for sprouting too slowly (though he may direct anger toward God's choice of weather). We become angry little impotents.

Which is the same thing as making us little devils. Satan wasn’t willing to submit in his God-given lane. He thought of himself too highly and lost it all. He is still a fool resisting the reality of values.

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jams 1:19-20). Take a step back, take a breath. Your life is bigger than the situation. Your life is bigger than creation. You are an eternal creature among other eternal creatures. This makes something serious in the situation, but you’re focused in too far. *The most serious thing is for you to fear the Lord.* Imagine you could look in at what’s happening from 100 windows rather than your little personal peephole.

A wise person isn’t seeking that isn’t there, a wise person is seeing *better* what’s there. He is better at seeing within the God-given constraints. It’s not that he doesn’t see problems, he sees them in context. The world of the Lord is a cosmos, with coherence and order, versus the algorithms of anger on timelines that are almost always out of context.

# Thanks Against Anger

You cannot flex your bi-cep and triceps at the same time. Both of those muscle groups are useful, unlike what I’m about to compare. But anger and thanks do not engage together. You’d think some of us are reading 1 Thessalonians 5:18 as “be angry in all circumstances.” Or Ephesians 5:20, “being angry always and for everything.” Instead, give thanks to the Lord. This isn’t stoicism—suppressing feelings, or sophistry—making fallacious arguments to our feelings. It’s fearing the Lord as Lord.

What about *righteous* anger? I think it is an appropriate category, and also one that gets claimed more than it should. There is righteous anger that Jesus showed toward religious people who were looking to accuse Him for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). In wisdom, fearing the Lord and hating evil, and perhaps strong feelings of displeasure, even antagonism against the evil is appropriate (see also Ephesians 4:26).

Anger dwells in the bosom of fools. Your sex life will not be better with more anger. Your kids will not be more well-adjusted because they survived the gauntlet of your anger. Your neighbors won’t see your good anger and glorify God on the day of visitation. Anger is a destructive folly, and a defenseless one while resisting reality. It exposes you as the fool, opens you up to further criticism.

Angry men are defensive men not because there is something worth protecting but because of desperation to make it *appear* that there is something worth defending. Losing one's temper is the same thing as unveiling one’s ego. Emotional regulation is arrogance regulation.

# Conclusion

When we are slow to anger we are ready *for* the right kind of fight:

> Whoever is slow to anger is better than
> the mighty,
> and he who rules his spirit than he
> who takes a city.
> (Proverbs 16:32 ESV)

I am thankful to my friends who have disobeyed the wisdom in Proverbs 22:24–25 and helped me learn new ways.

Sadly, my kids cannot say that they've never seen me get angry. But the next best thing is that I've had to preach about it while they listen. *That's* some accountability.

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Proverbs was written/edited by whom for whom for what? Solomon collected it for his sons so that he could teach them to know wisdom and instruction. The Lord blessed Solomon with wisdom on earth, not for some esoteric existence. As a father he gifted his sons by passing on this knowledge and discretion. A workable definition of wisdom is "skill for living." I recently saw another good angle on this: “Wisdom comes from knowing the patterns God built into creation." ([source](https://twitter.com/dmichaelclary/status/1643217836360310785?s=20)) This recognition-ability helps us not pet the king's fur backwards, so to speak. All this is good. And while of (stinking) course there is application for those in any and every station under the sun, the primary "for what" of Proverbs, the chief end of "for what" with wisdom, the telos of "for what" in skill for living, is glorifying God *in ruling*. Solomon was teaching his sons the family business: kingdom administration. “The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:” > to receive instruction in wise dealing, > in righteousness, justice, and equity; > (Proverbs 1:3 ESV) One of the first principles when leading any group of people is to recognize the pattern that a whole bunch of them are going to be *stupid*. There are rich and poor, diligent and lazy, righteous and wicked, wise and stupid. A little more than a year ago I read _The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity_. This booklet has less words than the book of Proverbs, and while the author isn’t a Christian he offers an astute non-inspired complement to the inspired Word. The definition of stupidity is really helpful: choosing things that don't benefit *anyone*, including oneself. “A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” (Loc. 245) With that definition in mind, Proverbs has a lot to say about stupid people. “Stupid" is a genus with a variety of character species. In Proverbs Solomon shows the patterns of the simple/naive, the fool, and the scoffer. They are on a spectrum of agreeableness to aggressiveness, but they all share the stupid gene. They are all throwing soup on paintings, some just have stronger arms and more chunks. Proverbs is a Stupid Vaccine, a Treasury of Stupid Antidote, it's the Handbook for Ruling a Nation with Fools, it's wisdom that gives rulers skills against stupid people. (And to be clear, I am mostly thinking about people, not decisions. A foolish moment from your two-year old isn’t the same as a stupid person who is characterized by foolish choices year-in and year-out of their adult life.) Before I give the headings, a few things. First, this ruling-wisdom works for all lesser magistrates. It applies at every level of organization. That starts with your own *feelings*. If you did nothing else with these skills, do *self-rule* when you see your own thoughts wanting to squirt off the path of wisdom through an open gate into the fool’s field. Cut them off. And then obviously there's a bunch of use for fathers (and mothers) dealing with stupid choices of sons (and daughters). Likewise, take notes: teachers, bosses, neighborhood association presidents, city council members, Christian nationalists. Second, as Christians we are in line to be *rulers*. This is our future. The present isn't a game per se, but you are going to use all this *after* the school of life. The Lord has made us a kingdom and priests, and we “shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10). Blessed are those who share the first resurrection, “they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6). You've got a governing position appointed for you in the Millennial Kingdom, so here's where you're putting in some reps to get ready. Proverbs in this sense is about Christ as the wise King teaching His sons their work. Third, the stupid people are mixed in everywhere. Cipolla’s *first basic law* is: “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.” I’m going to curate some of the counsel for us, use different words to concentrate our pattern recognition. But there's a subtle message in Solomon's arrangement of the Proverbs themselves: stupid people come up in all sorts of situations. # Expect a Miracle When I say to expect a miracle, I mean expect that it is going to take a miracle to fix stupid. Isn't this part of the reason we're so frustrated? We think it's *natural*, or at least obvious, to not choose things that benefit no one. And it *is* obvious, just like it's obvious that men didn't crawl out from being frog larvae and stretch their legs before inventing satellites and sending them into space. Stupid is a way of looking wrongly; that’s just how it looks. My favorite proverb is not in the book of Proverbs. > But a stupid man will get understanding > when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man! > (Job 11:12 ESV) The word for "stupid" here has the nuance of hollow, so “empty-headed” (NKJV); “An idiot will become intelligent” NAS), “The witless will become wise” (NIV). It is just as likely for dimwits to become discerning as it is for a donkey’s baby to come out a human being; it will take a miracle. > Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle > along with crushed grain, > yet his folly will not depart from him. > (Proverbs 27:22 ESV, see also “a hundred blows” 17:10) If you can't beat stupid out of someone, why would you think your charming smile is going to work? You're casting pearls before pigs that can't tell the difference between dirt and their own dung. Be wise, recognize the pattern, don’t lose your mind when stupid follows its trajectory. # Stay Above the Fray Two of the most well-known proverbs on responding to fools hit one right after the other in Proverbs 26:4-5. They almost seem too clever because on the surface they say the opposite. But unlike Democrats, the wise can see a play on words, get the joke, and understand better. > Answer not a fool according to his folly, > lest you be like him yourself. > (Proverbs 26:4 ESV) We don't really have to guess what **according to his folly** means, there is plenty of fool fodder in Proverbs. A fool exalts himself, to the point that he isolates himself (since no one is as wise-in-his-own-eyes). He has at least 11 followers on Twitter and 9 of them are bots who agree with him. > A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; > He rages against all wise judgment. > (Proverbs 18:1 NKJV) A fool loves to tell you what he thinks; while you’re talking he’s outlining his response. A fool “gives full vent to his spirit” (Proverbs 29:11), and one of the reasons he’s more and more isolated is because that means less people are around to challenge his opinion. > A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, > but only in expressing his opinion. > (Proverbs 18:2 ESV) A fool can only see what's immediately in front of him, he is perpetually short-sighted. He will lose the relationship to win (he thinks) the argument. > Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, > but a foolish man devours it. > (Proverbs 21:20 ESV) Don’t let the fool devour your time and your energy; it would be better to meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs (Proverbs 17:12). > If a wise man has an argument with a fool, > the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. > (Proverbs 29:9 ESV) > It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, > but every fool will be quarreling. > (Proverbs 20:3 ESV, see also not meddling in 26:17) Keep your head level and stay above the fray. Walk away. “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge” (Proverbs 14:7). Rhetoric is the art of a good man keeping his pie-hole shut, said Quintilian, or that’s at least what his first draft might have been. # Play the Long Game Let's go back to the answering two-step in chapter 26. > Answer not a fool according to his folly, > lest you be like him yourself. > Answer a fool according to his folly, > lest he be wise in his own eyes. > (Proverbs 26:4-5 ESV) Yes, we're to do the opposite of verse 4, but not in an inconsistent way. These verses don't cancel each other out. Don't respond in kind, respond to show the kind you’re dealing with. Don't engage in a corn-stalk sword-fights, light their stalk on fire to show it's true nature. It's the fool who thinks he must change everyone else's mind in one minute. The wise man pays attention to timing, and he knows his audience. His audience is *often* others who are watching the argument. “When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise” (Proverb 21:11). Think *second* level consequences. How does the Lord respond to the stupid? He certainly *sees*, which means we ought to take heart that we don't need to collect all the evidence for Him. The Lord keeps track. And the Lord often lets them have more of what they want, not because it's okay, but because He loves the pattern He made. Those who won't self-rule will self-ruin; “they shall eat the fruit of their own way” (Proverbs 1:31). No matter what, it is consistently the case that He is not worried. The Lord has a variety of plays in His repertoire. In the moment when we feel that we've only got *one* response, we've lost our nerve. > “Chronically anxious families (including institutions and whole societies) tend to mimic the reptilian response: Lacking the capacity to be playful, their perspective is narrow. **Lacking perspective, their repertoire of responses is thin**.” (_A Failure of Nerve_, Loc. 1289) At times the stupidity is targeted at us personally. If we can't overlook an offense we're not as glorious as we thought. > The vexation of a fool is known at once, > but the prudent ignores an insult. > (Proverbs 12:16 ESV) > Good sense makes one slow to anger, > and it is his glory to overlook an offense. > (Proverbs 19:11 ESV) You can only be calm and playful by fearing the Lord. “Vengeance on the stupid is mine,” says the Lord. Let Him take it seriously. You’re not defending yourself as much as showing that the fool shouldn’t trust his eyes that tell him he’s wise (Proverbs 26:5). # Never Flatter Fools Our rulers are flattering the stupid (think transgenderism, which is sort of a nuclear level stupidity of causing irreversible damage with no true benefits for anyone). Our society rewards the fools, we bail them out, we give them the microphone, we empathize with their (self-identified) oppression. Our nation fears men, or the mob, or the made up mob we have in our minds. > The fear of man lays a snare, > but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe. > (Proverbs 29:25 ESV) You do not have to accept the stupidity. We're living in a culture-wide Objectivity Room where things are silly and our governing class either expects our agreement, or isn't blessed enough to boldly stand against stupid and coordinate greater protection from it. It’s not won by the Constitution, but by submitting to Christ. So because Christ is Lord, fear the Lord and say what He says and let the stupid fall where they will. > Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor > than he who flatters with his tongue. > (Proverbs 28:23 ESV) But the pattern reveals that only certain people learn. > Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, > and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. > Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; > reprove a wise man, and he will love you. > (Proverbs 9:7–8 ESV) The righteous will groan when wicked fools rule over them (Proverbs 29:2), but even here the Lord is giving us wisdom to rule for the rejoicing of others when it is our time. # Conclusion Lightning round: - Be careful little ears what you hear. (Psalm 1:1) - Walk with the wise. (Proverbs 13:20) - Try to at least *appear* smart. Watch your mouth. (Proverbs 10:19; 12:23; 13:3; 17:28\*) - Discipline your sons. (Proverbs 13:24) - Vote! And not for stupid people! (Otherwise we’ll be a cause of our own groaning per Proverbs 29:2) - Love discipline/feedback. “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1) - Build up big walls of self-control. (Proverbs 25:28) Stupid people are like the poor: always among us. Stop freaking out that so many people are so stupid. It is not wisdom to respond to stupid people *for no one's benefit*, that is the essence of stupid. "Understand oh stupid people, when oh fools will you be wise." (Psalm 94:8) The Hebrew word here has the nuance of being dull (ESV), not sharp, of being senseless, like an animal, so "brutish" (KJV). We have every reason to take refuge in the Lord as our stronghold, to trust Him to wipe out the wicked, and to fear Him for sake of learning the skills for ruling.