Week 12: James and the Fatherless
Day 5: When It’s Okay To Be Dumb
(James 1:19, 20)
The silence behind the bathroom door concerned me. I could hear the shower running, but nothing else. There should be movement. I knocked, but there was no answer.
“Alosha, what are you doing?” I said loudly.
“What?” Came the hollered answer.
“What are you doing?”
“Cleaning the floor.”
“Why is the shower running!”
“I’m cleaning the floor.”
“With the shower? Turn it off. Now!”
The floor resembled a swimming pool. Fortunately, we got it cleaned up before the water could run down the walls to the next level.
* * *
The next section of the “Action” column as we go through the book of James could be titled: “Be doers, not just hearers.” And the first items in the column come from the verse we have already begun to look at: James 1:19:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”
Orphan ministry can be frustrating. Not just in the moments when the children rinse the floor from the showerhead, or don’t bother going to the well to get water to rinse the toilets since the city has shut the water off, or tell you they have completed a task when they really haven’t but also in the moments when guardians do horrible things to the children you have grown to love. In the moments when they tell you they just can’t love the child because they are not their own, when government officials hold out on doing what is best for the child in the hopes of receiving a bribe; when the line to get one stamp on a document is four hours long, and the lady at the window closes things up for a two-hour lunch.
This is why this verse in James is so important. God wants us to be doers OF HIS WORD, but there are some things He wants us to be slow at. So here, in the “Action” column, we find Him saying “HEAR, but be slow to speak and be slow to wrath.” He goes on in the next verse to say,
“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”
The events that take place surrounding the lives of these precious children can absolutely send you to pulling your hair out two fistfuls at a time, but God does not want us to respond, and certainly not to speak, in that frustration. He does not want us to try to bring about righteousness and justice by means of our wrath – and that can be a huge temptation at times.
The word here translated “wrath” covers pretty much every aspect of orphan ministry frustration you could contrive. The basic, very graphic, idea of the word, according to Thayer’s Lexicon, is the idea of internal movement, such as a piece of fruit swelling up with juice. It can refer to simple anger, to natural temperament, or to one’s temper and character, but the definition that seems to fit this primary idea is “movement or agitation of the soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion, but especially . . . anger.”
I remember standing in the courtyard of an orphanage with a guardian as they told me that they did not love the child in their custody, even though the child was a relative. This particular child and I had been through a lot together. We had become very close over a long period of, sometimes rocky, years. As we stood there, I felt those fruity juices swelling inside of me. How could this person say such things? I was horrified, angered, and absolutely disgusted. But then I realized something. Nothing I said or did would change the heart of that guardian, especially if I did it in anger. I know that realization came from the Holy Spirit because I was ready to pounce. But if I had burst like a fermenting piece of fruit and responded in anger, the situation could have gotten much worse.
The meaning of the word “wrath” extends beyond our responses to the injustices toward these children to our discipline of the children. It refers to “anger exhibited in punishment, hence the punishment itself.” In other words, in our response to children cleaning the bathroom floor with the showerhead, to the child who lies repeatedly, who steals, who bullies the other children, who manipulates, who whines, whatever the crime — we are to be slow to anger. It should not drive punishment.
I almost laugh when I read the definition of the word “slow”. It isn’t talking about physical speed or even the passage of a greater amount of time as compared to something that is quick. It’s talking about being dumb. It literally means “dull, inactive, in mind; stupid, slow to apprehend or believe.” It is the same word that Jesus used with the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:25, 26 when He said,
“… O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?”
The disciples were overwhelmed at the events of the preceding days. They couldn’t tell how Jesus’ death could possibly fit with their picture of the Messiah who would redeem Israel. Then Jesus came along, He listened, and then broke through their mind fog with truth.
God does not want our minds to be actively working towards wrath, even if it is with the intent of setting things straight. He tells us that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” Nothing that we say or do to that person who has crossed the line, whatever the line may be, will bring that person into the state of being acceptable, righteous, before God. Only God can do that. No punishment on our part will bring them to that point. Does this mean that in dealing with the children there should be no chastisement or correction? No. Discipline is important. But it does mean that we should not punish in anger. It also means that we should not respond in anger to those who wrong the children in our care – or even children not in our care. That is sometimes very difficult, especially when it is a situation you know you will never be able to influence. You want to fight for the one afflicted, and anger is often the first emotion we feel. But that anger will be destructive if we act on in – let your mind be dull when it comes to wrath.