Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wisdom: In Soft Answers

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

Ok, now if this isn’t the truest thing, if this isn’t Wisdom, then I don’t know what is! If you are a husband or a wife, if you are a child, if you are a parent, if you have any human relationships whatsoever, you know how true this Proverb is.

I cannot tell you how many times I have purposely used a harsh word with the intent of stirring up anger. If we are honest with ourselves, we all can think of times when we have purposely turned from the wisdom of a soft answer and turned toward the sinfulness of a harsh word. I confess that I have done this most often with the one person in this world who I love more than any other, my wife. There are times when we are having a “discussion” that gets a little heated. As things get hotter and hotter there comes a point when I know that I have two options—one is that of the soft answer that turns away wrath, the other is that of the harsh word which stirs up anger.

You could almost picture this as the little cartoon angel and devil on the shoulder. One is telling you to turn away wrath, the other is telling you to stir up anger. And admit that I sometimes gladly give in to the temptation to stir up anger.

This is the constant strain that all Christians find themselves living. The pull between sinner and saint. The devil uses this strain to try to tear us away from the love of God in Christ. He seduces us to stir up anger and then, after we have done it, he points a finger of blame and accuses us. It would be easy to doubt our own faith and salvation during these times. We are shown the truth of who we are: sinful. Instead of seeing that truth of our sinfulness in the glorious light of the Gospel, we grope in the darkness and shadow of the Law. It is certainly right to acknowledge our sins before God and man, to repent of them, but do not forget that in that acknowledgement and repentance there is ALWAYS forgiveness in Christ.

St. Paul knew this well. “Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:16-25a

In his recognition of his own wretchedness, St. Paul gives thanks to God for the free forgiveness and righteousness given in Jesus Christ our Lord.

And this is the very essence of that oft-quoted Luther phrase: sin boldly.
“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world."*

The next time you find yourself with the two choices; to turn away wrath or stir up anger, seek to turn away wrath. But give thanks to God that through Christ Jesus, all wrath has been turned away from us, even when we stir up anger.

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Psalm 34:1-3, 13-14, 22

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.

Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

The LORD redeems the life of his servants;

none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.
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*Luther, M. (1999, c1963).
Vol. 48: Luther's works, vol. 48 : Letters I
(J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.).
Luther's Works (Vol. 48, Page 281-282).
Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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