The Grace of Patience

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Today’s devotional comes from Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. As with all wisdoms inspired by God, its value transcends time and is just as meaningful and important to reflect upon today as it was for the Chosen People those many centuries ago. Chapter 7 gives us a number of examples of the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. ʺThe heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merriment.ʺ (verse 4) ʺIt is better to listen to the rebuke of the wise than to listen to the song of fools.ʺ (verse 5) ʺExtortion can make a fool out of the wise.ʺ (verse 7) The wonderful thing about wisdom is that its meaning is not hidden. It is right there before you. Only the foolish would attempt to argue with it. But, so it is. So much of the world’s problems are the result of the foolish denial of simple wisdoms.

The core verse for our reflection today is verse 9, which says: ʺDo not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.ʺ Anger is a real issue for most of us. In some, it is like a match head. It flares up with fiery intensity, then dies just as quickly, but the damage it can do is often frightening. For others, anger becomes a theme in their lives. Their hearts are so full of it that there is no longer any room for forgiveness or mercy. They are filled with resentment and can find happiness in nothing. It seems that nothing will quench or satisfy their angers. Is this not the very definition of foolishness? Why do we allow ourselves to fall into this anger?

The great, late Medieval, English author, Geoffrey Chaucer, gives us an excellent description of the deadly sin of anger in his ‘Parson’s Tale’ from his Canterbury Tales. It goes like this: Anger is the wicked will to vengeance. Anger against wickedness, however, is good, wrath without bitterness. Wicked anger is either sudden or premeditated; the latter is the worse. Malice aforethought chases the Holy Ghost out of the soul. It is the devil’s furnace and heats hatred, manslaughter, treachery, lies, flattery, scorn, discord, menaces, and curses. The remedy for anger is patience.ʺ In these few words we can see the difference between the wisdom and the foolishness that Ecclesiastes urges us to contemplate. For example, it is truly wise to be angry against wickedness, or as we would put it today, injustices, of any and all kinds. This anger is wise when its energy is turned to doing the good, to eliminating those injustices with compassion, mercy, and when appropriate, with forgiveness. The result of behaving wisely in this manner is that, though there may be suffering to endure, in the end the good will come about and justice will return to those who have been crushed down by the unjust laws or actions of others. This takes great patience and endurance, for evil does not go away easily.

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If one’s anger, on the other hand, rises up in the face of injustice and rushes blindly against it, driven by fury and revenge, its results are never good. Such behavior often is just as unjust, cruel, merciless and unforgiving as that which it seeks to destroy. History is full of this kind of foolishness. One need look no further than the injustices and cruelties that followed the French and Russian revolutions. In the efforts of the oppressed to overthrow their unjust governments, they became more cruel and unjust than those they had suffered under. They had become blinded by that form of anger we call hatred. When wrath and revenge become the driving forces, it is always blind and destructive. This is the height of foolishness, indeed.

The wise person replaces wrath and bitterness with patience and compassion. The fool is impetuous, without self-discipline. The wise person recognizes that even with the best evidence, he/she might be right, or might be wrong, but willingly takes responsibility for the consequences of those actions, good or bad. The fool is always right in his/her own eyes, and never listens to the counsel of the wise. (Proverbs 12:15) The wise person has humbled him/herself enough to listen to the counsel of those who are wiser and more temperate. The fool takes no delight in understanding, but only in displaying what he/she thinks. (Proverbs 18: 2) The wise person learns to discipline his/her anger. The fool is the slave of his/her anger, bending to its will without thought. While both instinctually desire some concept of the good, good can only come from wisdom, never from the foolishness of wrath or revenge.

Lord, we are often caught up in the winds of wrathful anger. We pray that you give us the grace of patience. Help us to grow in self-discipline so that when we are challenged by injustices of any kind we can respond with patience, compassion and mercy, instead of wrath and vengeance. We know that we are weak and we pray that you strengthen us where we are weak. Make us instruments of your peace in our daily lives. Help us to keep our eyes always on you. We pray these prayers in your name, Jesus. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.