Q&A: A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath

Question

What is meant by a soft answer turning away wrath? (Prov 15:1)

Answer

Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

A soft answer refers to a gentle, kind, or tenderhearted verbal response that is wise and disarming. James 3:17 describes it this way: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

A soft answer assists to minimize and deflect anger and helps calm a situation. It is the opposite of harsh words that stir up anger. And, of course, unrighteousness anger in speech is sinful. James addresses this also: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:19-20).

Soft answers contain words and vocal tones that make peace (Matt. 5:9). We need to nurture such responses daily (Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:12). We do this by being constantly heavenly minded (Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:1-2; Heb. 12:1-3). As Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

At times, anger seems to get the best of people. They feel it begin to rise within themselves and then begin to take over. Decades ago when I was still a patrolman on the streets and still answering domestic calls, I discovered something that worked with parties in a violent, word-throwing, domestic disturbance: I had them sit on their hands. Yes, literally sit on their hands! Doing this meant no finger-pointing, no waving of arms, and no upper body movement. Because we normally reveal our emotions as much with our body movements as with our words — at times even more so — it’s very difficult to display anger in such a position. (This can also work wonderfully with teenagers.)

Though awkward, I use this method for myself. It's like a time delay that helps me take a conscious, calming step back and provides a moment to think before I speak. It slows me down and I also listen more intently (Jas. 1:19).

Time out! Sit on your hands! Find and speak soft answers.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).