“It’s wisdom in a person’s life that keeps their patience strong; for it will make one’s glory shine to overlook a wrong.” (Proverbs 19:11)
This is the nineteenth in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 19, preceded by a brief reflection.
A few months into the Covid lockdown in 2020, my son John and I were talking over the phone. He asked how I was spending my time, to which I replied, “reading, studying, and writing.” His quick response, “Well Dad, it seems like you have been training for quarantine your entire life.” He was pretty close to the mark because, as an introvert, I prefer quiet, reflective living. So when the pandemic struck, I easily embraced the endless months of involuntary semi-solitude. In this, I was most fortunate because for many it was a time of emotional and financial hardships. But whether the experience was easy or difficult, we all were all impacted in some way by the disruption of our relationships. Perhaps it was family members we could not visit, or friends we could not have coffee with, or groups that stopped meeting. Isolation affected all of us in our interactions with others.
Things are now starting to open up, and relationships that have been on hold for the past year are gradually being renewed. What will these look like? Will we just sort of pick up where we left off, or will something be different? I heard an interview with Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist, who was imprisoned in Iran for 18 months in solitary confinement prior to his release in 2016. Based on his experience of reentering society after a prolonged absence, he offered the following advice, “Be aware that we’ve all changed, whether consciously or not. Not everything will return to the way it was before, so have patience with yourself and others. For all we know, some of these changes may actually be improvements.”
Jason’s comment to have patience with others resonates with me, but not perhaps in the way he intended it. His point is that it will take time to reestablish relationships both in terms of the timing and content. Things will be different because the passage of time has changed us, and we should be patient to allow ourselves and others time to adjust to a new normal.
However, the kind of patience that comes to my mind involves self-control that can overlook a wrong. This has been a struggle for me because I can be upset by even the most trivial of perceived offenses. For example, someone breaks a promise, or doesn’t acknowledge something I have done, or makes a critical remark, or doesn’t smile when I walk by. With any of these, feelings of disappointment, bitterness, and anger can appear and even thoughts of revenge begin to form. This kind of impatience can metastasize into habits that are not easy to break.
All of this of course is contrary to the wisdom of Solomon who wrote, “It’s wisdom in a person’s life that keeps their patience strong; for it will make one’s glory shine to overlook a wrong.” (Proverbs 19:11) The NIV translation is “A person’s wisdom yields patience, it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Other versions say that “A person’s wisdom makes them slow to anger …” The concept is clear – wisdom’s way is that when we feel offended, we should show patience by overlooking the matter. Jesus says pretty much the same thing when Peter asks how many times he must forgive, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)
As our social interactions pick up, we have an opportunity to rethink and reform the old patterns of behavior. To be less sensitive and defensive. To be less petty and pouty. In short, to be more understanding and forgiving. According to Solomon, it is wisdom that makes this possible. So how do we gain this wisdom? The answer, I believe, is revealed in our deepest held beliefs. It’s not that we don’t believe in overlooking offenses, but that we hold diametrically opposed beliefs that are stronger. Let me explain.
In many matters we have conflicting beliefs. These are not always apparent because what we articulate as our belief is not necessarily the deeper belief that controls our actions. For example, there are some people who refuse to get vaccinated for the Covid virus based on their belief that medical science is not to be trusted. However, these same people will seek the best medical care if they become sick. Two diametrically opposed beliefs about medical science, where the dominant one is revealed when it matters most.
Now when it comes to overlooking an offense, I am like many Christians in believing that this is God’s will. And yet, when offended, I inevitably react with impatience, defensiveness, and anger. The reason is that I hold a contrary belief in a form of “justice” that responds to every wrong. When things are going well, I am loath to admit that I believe in retaliation. And yet that is precisely what is revealed when I feel offended. I think, “what he said wasn’t right,” or “what she did wasn’t fair.” And so I set out to defend myself.
Biblical wisdom is an unwavering commitment to the will of God. This means that despite conflicting beliefs, if we desire the wisdom that results in spiritual growth, we must strive to make God’s way our dominate belief. This is not easy because following God’s will does not come naturally to us. What comes naturally is self-centeredness and self-protection.
So how does a Christian grow beyond impatience and anger? This is classically the purpose of spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, guidance and community. No doubt these are essential, but equally foundational is coming to the knowledge that our lives are measurably better when we overlook offenses. I know what it is like to stew over some offense for days, plan retaliation for an injury received, and wallow in self-pity over some injustice. And I don’t think I ever feel better afterward. But I have also tasted the freedom that comes with overlooking slights and offenses caused by others. Solomon expresses this freedom in terms of having life, “Those keeping fast the Lord’s commands, will live since they obey; but all will die who only keep, and follow their own way.” (Proverbs 19:16) There is freedom that comes from a forgiving heart, and if we truly love our life, we want to grow in wisdom. Again, the words of Solomon, “To grow in wisdom is to love the life within one’s soul; to cherish understanding is to prosper in one’s goal.” (Proverbs 19:8)
We don’t overlook an offense because it is easy or feels good on the front end. We do so because it is how we find freedom. Every time I overlook an injustice done to me, I am free to love others as God loves me. With anger just the opposite – walls rise up as my soul shrivels.
We come out of Covid with the possibility of a reset in our interactions with others. Even in the best of relationships it is inevitable that there will come a time when something will be said or done that is hurtful. But with a commitment to overlook offenses, true inner freedom is within our reach.
1 Much better being one who’s poor,
and have integrity;
Than being rich with foolish lips,
that spew perversity.
2 To rashly act when knowledge lacks,
is certainly not good;
So anyone who acts in haste,
won’t go the way they should.
3 Through people’s own stupidity,
comes ruin for their way;
Yet in their hearts they blame the Lord,
for how they’ve gone astray.
4 While wealth and riches draw a crowd,
attracting many friends;
With poverty it’s opposite –
desertion’s how it ends.
5 A witness who won’t tell the truth,
is punished for their plea;
And one who falsely testifies,
will never be set free.
6 A number curry favor with,
a prince who’s generous;
And everyone would be a friend,
to a philanthropist.
7 The poor are shunned by relatives,
and spurned by every friend;
And though pursued and begged for help,
they’re missing in the end.
8 To grow in wisdom is to love,
the life within one’s soul;
To cherish understanding is,
to prosper in one’s goal.
9 A witness who won’t tell the truth,
will suffer discipline;
And one who falsely testifies,
will perish for their sin.
10 While luxury is out of place,
for one who is a fool;
Much worse when servants take command,
and over princes rule.
11 It’s wisdom in a person’s life,
that keeps their patience strong;
For it will make one’s glory shine,
to overlook a wrong.
12 The anger of a king is like,
a lion when it roars;
His favor though is like the dew,
that freshens and restores.
13 A foolish child brings suffering,
that is a father’s bane;
A nagging wife is like a roof,
that’s dripping from the rain.
14 A parent leaves a house and wealth,
when passing from this life;
But it’s the Lord whose hand provides,
a wise and prudent wife.
15 One’s unimpeded laziness,
brings on a heavy sleep;
While idleness breeds famishment,
with nothing for one’s keep.
16 Those keeping fast the Lord’s commands,
will live since they obey;
But all will die who only keep,
and follow their own way.
17 Those showing kindness to the poor,
are lending to the Lord;
And for the things that they have done,
He’ll give them a reward.
18 Now discipline your children while,
there’s hope that they can learn;
Or else you’re helping put them on,
a path of no return.
19 A wrathful man must pay the price,
for evening a score;
But rescue him and you will have,
to do it more and more.
20 Accept advice and discipline,
and counsel for your ways;
And you’ll acquire wisdom for,
the balance of your days.
21 A person’s heart has many plans,
that seem like they can’t fail;
But it’s the purpose of the Lord,
that always will prevail.
22 What people want the very most,
is love and loyalty;
It’s better to have nothing than,
to speak dishonestly.
23 To reverence and fear the Lord,
will yield a life that’s blessed;
Untouched by any suffering,
contented and at rest.
24 The lazy put their hand in food,
intending there to sup;
But will not bring it to their mouth,
or even lift it up.
25 When seeing mockers disciplined,
the foolish understand;
But those with wisdom learn when they,
receive a reprimand.
26 Whoever robs their family,
and drives their parents out;
Is surely a disgraceful son,
a prodigal and lout.
27 My child, if you stop listening,
to words you need to hear;
Then you will surely drift away,
from knowledge that is clear.
28 A witness who’s unprincipled,
makes fun of what is fair;
For one who’s set on wickedness,
spreads evil without care.
29 There’s condemnation preordained,
for those who mock and scorn;
And beatings destined for the back,
of every fool who’s born.