Synopsis: Temptation and Anger
This week’s passage from James (1:12-21) focuses on two notable tensions within human experience: 1) the origin and role of temptation; 2) the proper role of anger. Both tensions involve the human response, but only temptation raises the question of God’s role. Significantly, Scripture uses the same word for “tempt” as it does for “test.” James declares that God does not tempt; but does he test?
The question of anger is a more volatile one. Anger does not appear on any of the New Testament virtue lists. Patience appears on them all. But one passage actually commands anger: Ephesians 4:25-27: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil” (NRSV). This passage can be see in the setting of three kinds of anger:
A. The anger of communication. This is where Ephesians 4 fits in. It is in the context of communication. Graham Greene puts this quote in the mouth of one of his short-story characters: “In her experience [Marie Duval] it was only when a man became angry that he told the truth.” – “An Appointment with the General”in The Last Word and Other Stories (p. 148).
B. Murderous anger. This is the anger that Jesus condemned in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’ . . . But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment (Matt. 5:21-22, NRSV).
C. Anger of purity. Some evils demand an angry response. Perhaps Ps. 139:21-22 would be in that category: “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies” (NRSV). Similarly, note Ellen White’s description of the “wrath of the lamb” in DA 825:
“How would a father and mother feel, did they know that their child, lost in the cold and the snow, had been passed by, and left to perish, by those who might have saved it? Would they not be terribly grieved, wildly indignant? Would they not denounce those murderers with wrath hot as their tears, intense as their love? The sufferings of every man are the sufferings of God’s child, and those who reach out no helping hand to their perishing fellow beings provoke His righteous anger. This is the wrath of the Lamb.”
Questions for Discussion:
1. Tempting or Testing? James is emphatic that God tempts no one (1:13). But the word “tempt” can also be translated as “test.” Would it be right to say that God tests, but does not tempt? In the famous story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac the KJV says that God “tempted” Abraham (Gen. 22:1); the NRSV states that God “tested” him? Can God send us a temptation that is also a test?
2. Internal temptation. Is James’ description of how one is “tempted by one’s own desire” (1:14) and “being lured and enticed by it,” an echo of the story of Cain and Abel? “If you do not do well,” God tells Cain, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7, NRSV). Does James give us any practical help for resisting and overcoming temptation when it wells up from within? Or must we look elsewhere in Scripture?
3. Trials as God’s gifts. Is there a healthy tension between 1:2 (“whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy”), and 1:17 that claims that “every perfect gift is from above”? If trials help us grow, shouldn’t we see them as gifts of God?
4. Anger. James’ counsel is simple: “Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). What is the right place for anger? The discussion of anger in the synopsis above can give some guidance.
5. Rid yourself of all sordidness. James has already turned down the temperature on our anger (cf. “slow to anger,” 1:19). But do the last lines of 1:21 (“welcome with meekness the implanted word”) move in the direction of banishing anger completely?