Scripture: James 1:16-27
Key verses: (19-20, 27) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Reflection: Most definitions of “emotion” follow Aristotle’s understanding of emotion as “states of feeling.” Jamie Dow wrote in summary of Aristotle’s work on this theory of emotion:
“To have an emotion is to experience pain, pleasure, or both, where this pain or pleasure is intentional and representational. An emotion is pain or pleasure at the emotion’s object, where the object is represented in ways that give ground for the particular emotion experienced.”
How do you understand emotion? More specifically, how do you understand anger? I was told anger is an evil emotion, an emotion that must be silenced and subdued. I think this understanding and guidance on anger comes from this passage in James and others like it. The apostle Paul implores and advises both the Colossians and the Ephesians to get rid of all evil such as anger (Col.3:8; Eph.4:31). However, there are other uses of the word anger that couple the emotion with different advice — be slow to anger. Anger is not evil, but it can be harmful if your anger boils to the surface easily.
What do you feel when you see injustices in the world? How do you feel when experiencing or witnessing prejudice against others? As James begins he calls for “brothers and sisters” to listen up, pay attention, know this! Our purpose as Christians, in James’ understanding, is what follows: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Is that it? Is that our calling as followers of Christ? So, another question to ponder: can anger be a good thing? As this passage concludes, he states what “pure religion” is: looking after orphans and widows, keep yourself unstained from the world.
Here is how I understand all of this. To be quick to listen is to truly pay attention to and understand what God calls us to do: love God; love neighbor. The way to fulfil this command in the eyes of James is taking care of those oppressed and those on the fridges of society (orphans and widows). But James draws our attention to not merely listening but doing! “Do not merely listen … Do what it says.” By caring for the oppressed, by fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves in this world, anger may be experienced. It is anger that can drive our actions to fight, not freeze or flee. It is our anger that can push us into action to right the wrongs we see in the world. First we must listen, to the Word and to others. Then we take action. I hope the actions we take come from a place of love, driven by our care of the other, keeping ourselves and others unstained from the world, all for God’s glory.
Prayer: In creation you exclaimed that all was good, O God. In the sight of injustice and evil you became angry, O God. I pray that I remember creation is made in your goodness, and I pray that when I see evil I may respond by taking action. Guide me in your call to love, so the orphans and widows may be lifted up from the pollution of this world. Amen.
Author: Ben Brannan
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].