Can words written thousands of years ago reach across eras to change the life of a youngster in inner-city America?
That doesn't seem preposterous if the words come from the Bible. History is replete with examples of its mysterious power.
Consider the effect once wrought upon Benjamin Carson, one of the world's most renowned physicians. He's director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins University Children's Center in Baltimore, a post he landed in 1984 at age 33.
The biblical impact emerged when Carson told some of his life story to the Michigan Alumnus magazine. e received his medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1977.)
Carson was raised in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Detroit by a divorced mother who had to hold down several jobs to make ends meet. Though she had only a third-grade education, she radically improved the flagging school performance of young Benjamin and his brother by forcing them to turn off the television and read books instead.
But though Carson's academic work prospered, he faced another obstacle to success - a violent temper. By his own account, he often hit people with a bat or rock, including one incident that broke the glasses of a neighbor and almost destroyed an eye.
The climax came in ninth grade when Carson tried to stab a boy in the gut. Fortunately, the intended victim was wearing a large metal belt buckle that broke the blade. "I realized that a temper like that was going to land me in jail, reform school or the grave," Carson recalled.
He "started praying and asking God to deliver me from this temper." Then, seeking guidance amid youthful misery, he began reading from the Old Testament's Book of Proverbs. This verse particularly hit home:
"He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (16:32).
As Carson discovered, the same biblical book says other things along similar lines:
"A man of quick temper acts foolishly, but a man of discretion is patient" (14:17).
"He who is slow to anger has great understanding but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly" (14:29).
"A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again" (19:19).
"A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls" (25:28).
After undergoing this spiritual crisis, Carson says he found himself able to control his temper. He graduated third in his class at Southwestern High and won a scholarship to Yale. No doubt self-control enabled him to become a healer and a star surgeon.
American culture appears divided about conflict and anger. On the one hand, "anger management" training and self-help books are quite fashionable. But simultaneously, let-it-all-hang-out therapies abound and ranting is the rage on TV talk shows and news panels.
The Bible is not totally opposed to anger. That attribute characterizes God when injustice arises. Jesus' driving moneychangers out of the Temple is a notable Christian example. In other cases, humans' righteous anger is also accepted.
But otherwise, the Bible commends self-control. As one Bible commentary observes, this is not ancient Greek philosophy's ideal of perfecting oneself to produce a well-ordered personality but recognition that the person must rely upon God for power over destructive passions.
In addition to the teachings in Old Testament "wisdom literature," the New Testament commends spiritual anger management in various passages, among them:
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-22), Jesus radically expands "you shall not kill" from the Ten Commandments, teaching that "every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment."
Colossians 3:5-17 asks believers to "put on the new nature," let "the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" and shun such things as "anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk."
And James 1:19-20 says, "Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God."
On the Net:
Carson data: http://www.neuro.jhmi.edu/profiles/carson.html