Imagine yourself on a busy road, hastily trying to run some errands on your lunch break. Just as you approach a side street, another vehicle turns left in front of you from that road, as though he was waiting for you to get close enough to make his turn exciting. "What are you, a squirrel?" you exclaim to no one through your gritted teeth; as you hit your breaks just in time to not hit this apparent thrill-seeker.
Or imagine this: You have been busily trying to clean up today's mess before climbing into bed, and finally after turning off every light and appliance, are just peeling back the covers, when your spouse says to you, "Dear, could you bring me some water?" Do you roll your eyes and make sure they know through your tone that, though you will comply, this "sacrifice" on your part is costing you dearly?
Or someone parks in your spot at work, church, the gym, or wherever else you may find yourself. Do you walk in loudly complaining of the fact that you had to walk farther or longer because your usual spot was taken by someone who is obviously inconsiderate?
Or someone blatantly, callously insults you to your face. Are you justified in a loud and angry display in return?
A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult (NIV).
I have to say, when I read this proverb, there were so many fingers pointing back at me already I really did not have any to spare for accusing others (don't you hate it when that happens?)!
I take things personally. It is understandable, to an extent. I am an individual who feels things very deeply. Whether it be my own feelings, or bearing empathy for the feelings of someone else, there is little that does not have the ability to cut me to the quick. But above and beyond that, I really do take things personally.
If I was to sit down and ask myself why that was, I could give you a lot of answers about how this affected me while I was growing up, or someone in college said something like this to me once; but the honest truth is much simpler. For whatever baggage might be in my past, for whatever reason I could think to muster, I care far too much about what other people think, and not nearly enough about how God sees me.
Proverbs 1:7, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and 12:16 says a prudent (wise) man overlooks an insult. So the fear of the Lord is the means to being able to overlook an insult. Not to reduce a proper reverence of God to a "means to an end," because revering and honoring God is an end unto itself, it is why we were created. But it is impossible to truly overlook an offense if our focus is on ourselves. But while we learn to honor God, we also learn to love like Him, to forgive like Him, and we learn that no one else has an opinion of us that matters more than His.
If you are "fearing the Lord," in the true meaning of that verse, you are awed by Him. You understand that God is wholly Other, completely Holy, totally above even the highest thoughts we could possibly think about God while we are so limited here on earth. That does not mean that you are afraid He will harm you. I think many will agree that C.S. Lewis's description of Aslan in the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe shows the perfect perspective of a heart that "fears the Lord," in the sense of reverence, awe, and honor:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”
Or perhaps another great Lewis passage comes from The Horse and His Boy, also in the Chronicles of Narnia:
Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion.
"Please," she said, "you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you then fed by anyone else."
"Dearest daughter," said Aslan, planting a lion's kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, "I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours."
The fear of the Lord is not succumbing to the heretical notion that God Almighty is nothing other than some kind of cosmic vending machine, or a buddy just here to pal around with you from now and throughout eternity. Do not mistake me, God loves us. He wants us to experience "fullness of joy" in His presence, and "pleasures forevermore" at his right hand (Psalm 16:11). But God is God. He is the Lord and Ruler of the universe. A Righteous Judge who demanded payment for our sins, and paid it with the blood of His very own perfect spotless Son. He is to be honored, glorified, magnified; even while we are drawing near to Him and laying bare our hearts.
I think, particularly, the horse's response to Aslan is very relevant to this discussion. "You are so beautiful I'd rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else (paraphrase)."
What is the approval and praise of others if not "food" for our ego? So Fear of the Lord looks like this: being more concerned with how you can get even just a little bit closer to this incredible, amazing God than you are concerned with making sure you have the approval of man. And "just a bit closer," is never enough. How could you ever get close enough to the glory, the magnificence, the splendor of who God is? The Psalmist encourages the young bride of a king with a verse that well applies to any Christian learning about the Fear of the Lord:
Listen, O daughter; consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father's house. The King is enthralled with your beauty; honor Him, for He is your Lord.
The person who is living for the Lord's approval will not care if you call them any sort of name, they will not care if you think they are a little crazy. God constantly asked the prophets to do all kinds of weird things, and if they were more concerned with man's opinion they never could have served Him the way that they did. What does that have to do with overlooking an offense? Simple. If you do not care what people think of you, you will not care when they persecute, insult, pick on, annoy, frustrate, or aggravate you.
I have to be honest with you. Most days I am pretty sure I will never achieve that level of "water off a duck's back"-ness this side of Glory. I am pretty impatient, and I do not easily overlook an offense. I have always been one who wants to know that she is approved of, loved, even just liked. But, the good news is that I am not the one who needs to achieve this. I seem to recall that "nothing is impossible with God (Mark 10:27)." And that God will not start something in us that He cannot finish (Philippians 1:6).
So what is our job in this? Serve the Lord. Know who it is we are serving, love Him, fear Him (reverently, not with terror); and allow God to make you wise through your closeness to Him.
And, you know, next time you feel your blood boiling over a minor offense, remind yourself: A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult (Proverbs 12:16).