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Rhetorical Road Rage
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“Road rage” is one of the newest manifestations of our “me first” society. In fact, it has even been classified as a medical condition and a mental illness, which immediately removes the responsibility from the perpetrator. In simplest terms, road rage is hyper-aggressive and dangerous driving, which can result in anything from infantile behavior to death. The basic message in road rage is, “I’m more important than you.”
We who drive have probably all been victims of it, hopefully in the relatively innocuous “finger-pointing” style and not the “force one off the road” approach. I find obscene gestures childish and laughable, although I have to keep a straight face lest I further inflame the irrational passions of the other driver. Being yelled at through closed windows also hurts—hardly. Now, it’s not like I’ve never done anything to legitimize the other driver’s anger, but the responses never do anything to rectify the situation. Maybe I’m supposed to feel guilty when the other person goes home and kicks the dog.
Being a wimpy kid, I had to learn the art of verbal self-defense. My sharp tongue spared me a lifetime of thrashings at the hands of school bullies, either because they admired my bon mots or thought me not worth the effort. Unfortunately, I’ve carried that weapon into too many relationships, causing damage that has been, in some cases, irreparable. So much for “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” From personal experience, I consider that myth “busted.”
I say these things not to boast, but to highlight the change the Lord has made in me. The rapier wit is still there, but generally remains sheathed in a scabbard of Holy Spirit restraint. I’m learning that expressions of rage can, at worst, scar people forever or, at best, make me look like a jerkball.
Of course, the Bible has a lot to say about both anger and the use of the tongue. Probably one of the scariest verses is “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36, 37, NKJV). The slightest slip of the tongue, especially when spoken in anger, will be duly noted and answered for.
We have seen that in the media, whether spoken by politicians or entertainers, words have an effect beyond the ounce of breath expended to bring them to life. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; Therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14, NKJV). People who love to talk may soon find themselves harming, when we are called to heal. And once a harsh word is uttered, not only is there no retrieving it, but it may set off a flood of give-and-take which causes more damage than we expect. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
There are times when proper displays of anger are called for. Jesus described himself as “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29, KJV), but he could also express anger. When he was criticized and accused, he responded with quiet confidence: “Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” (John 8:46, NKJV). When unjustly sentenced to die, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Jesus felt no need to justify himself, but “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). During an angry exchange, no one listens to reason, so what’s the point of going on?
However, the Bible does record a couple instances of the Lamb of God displaying anger. When he saw the temple being used as a base of operations for religious profiteers, “Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Matthew 21:12). His anger was directed at those who desecrated the Father’s house.
On another occasion, when Jesus was about to perform a kind healing deed, the religionists watched him so they could accuse him of violating synagogue rules. “He looked around at them in anger . . . deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mark 3:5).
Jesus displayed righteous anger, directed toward injustices. He did not defend himself in anger, but trusted the Father to make things right. His words were always true and measured. He was gracious to the weak and firm with the strong, but never out of control. He never participated in rhetorical road rage.
I confess that I am still wimpy. But I do know where real strength lies: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32, NKJV).
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