“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;. . .” Psalm 37
I once knew a guy who was a mean drunk. There aren’t that many nights I remember from my own late teenage years, but one I do is the night that this guy just simply went off, and it took maybe three or four of us to calm him down. Violent, he got. He threatened everybody and everything around him for no particular reason at all, other than the fact that he was drunk, or so it seemed. He just lost it, as they say. I remember exactly where that happened, even where I was standing, trying to keep him from busting loose. It was late, and it wasn’t pretty.
Not long ago I saw him again, maybe for the first time in thirty years. He was singing in a men’s group whose claim to fame—or so it seemed to me—was sheer volume. There’s something inspiring about men singing big, and this group’s repertoire was raising the roof with traditional hymns. Don’t get me wrong, they sang well and I enjoyed them, but the volume was well-cranked.
The guy was never threatened me, never laid a hand on me; but when, years later, I saw him up there on stage singing hymns, the only memory that returned to me was the night he was drunk and mean.
Let me change gears a minute.
Sometimes I wonder what Christians mean when they tell those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ—or have never heard of him—that they should just "read His word." I know there are saints who’ve smuggled Bibles into all kinds of countries, often under great risk. Almost every motel room I’ve ever searched has a Gideon Bible, as if people who happen to be there overnight might just pick it up and read it leisurely, no matter what version.
I’m not saying anything untoward if I say the Bible is no airport novel, and it’s certainly not a quick read. If you had never seen one before, nor ever heard a thing about Christianity, just imagine what you might think if you’d open the good book to, say, the story of Jephthah’s daughter, a perfectly innocent young girl murdered by her father because of some promise that didn’t even involve his sweet child. Bizarre.
Then again, some passages—the moral passages—might just hit home, especially if you, like my boyhood friend, were a mean drunk. Maybe, just maybe, a Gideon Bible would be just what the doctor ordered. Besides, the Holy Spirit does some strange things--just ask Flannery O'Connor.
The truth of this single verse from Psalm 37 is weirdly evident in story of the guy who sang the bass line in a men's quartet blasting out old hymns: the vivid memory I can’t get rid of is a single night of his wrath long, long ago.
Friday night some sharpshooting kid driving a black BMW killed six college students in a mad attempt to get back other 20-year-olds for his pain, if his rants on paper and video are to be believed. He spewed hate and, finally, death from three semi-automatic handguns his parents had no idea he'd owned.
Friday night makes this single line of perfectly understandable scriptural admonition feel like horrifying understatement, but what it says is no less true than it was thousands of years ago.
On this we can all agree: wrath can make us killers.