A few days ago, I impatiently responded to someone with angry words. Suddenly, what had been a close relationship became strained. Silence fell and stretched on for hours and hours. It took a humble apology to restore a degree of amiability. Even though forgiven, the words cannot be erased. They linger there in the memories of the two of us, introducing a measure of constraint and caution between us.
How wisely James warns us about the danger an untamed tongue presents. “The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell”(James 3: 5,6).
In this season of fires throughout Texas and across Northern Canada, we have ample illustrations of the dangers posed by a spark. Once ignited, fires in tinder-dry forests and grasslands prove almost impossible to control. Authorities employ water-bombers to try and douse them, even while they appeal for people to pray for torrential rains. Rain from above is the best solution.
Angry, hurtful words can quickly incinerate loving, happy relationships: friendships, marriages, churches, communities, countries. No wonder the Bible counsels us to quickly confess our faults, ask for forgiveness, seek immediate reconciliation wherever schism erects its ugly head. Like a sprinter, we should be quick off the mark to apologize for angry or hurtful words. Such a humble approach opens the way for God to send the restoring rain of His presence.
Unfortunately, pride often keeps us from admitting wrong. We try to justify ourselves. We blame the other person for provoking us. When it comes to confessing sin, we slow down our spiritual responses so much that we resemble snails leaving a slimy trail of self-indulgence behind us. Because the problem is self, we worry that admitting fault will somehow damage our self-image. At root it is a failure to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. But in reality, humility and honesty are the kind of qualities that contribute to a biblical self-image.