It was reported last Friday by the Associated Press that Christopher Thompson, a 60-year-old, Los Angeles-area emergency room doctor, was sentenced to five years in state prison following a conviction last November of assault with a deadly weapon, battery with serious bodily injury, reckless driving, and mayhem.  Under what circumstances did this highly trained and successful medical professional act so violently?  Annoyed with the riding habits of bicyclists on Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood, Thompson intentionally slammed his foot on the brake pedal of his Infiniti sedan, causing one rider to crash through the rear window of the car and another to hit the pavement so hard that he separated his shoulder.  Thompson told a police officer that he did this to “teach them a lesson.”  Thompson, also, has learned a sad, hard lesson with prison-time consequences.  In an emotional and apologetic statement in court, he stated, “If my incident shows anything, it’s that confrontation leads to escalation of hostilities.”  That last statement of truth deserves a blog post of its own, but for now I want to focus on the road rage component of the story.

Road rage has entered our vocabulary in recent years as a description of hostile words and aggressive actions by perturbed drivers on our nation’s streets and highways.  It can result in screamed insults, obscene gestures, verbal threats, tailgating and other dangerous driving behavior, beatings, shootings, injury, and death.  I hope that you have never been a victim of intense road rage, and I pray that God blesses both you and me with enough sense and self-control to prevent frustration, anger, and adrenaline from drawing us into an escalating, lose-lose scenario that ends in a hospitalization or a funeral. 

While extremely dangerous because of the size, weight, and speed of the “weapons” involved, road rage has some far more common and frequently occurring “cousins.”   These can similarly cause significant pain and injury and can have long-term consequences, though of a more emotional and relational nature.  Although anger is a natural, human emotional response, Scripture sounds clear warnings about the essentiality of processing it and expressing it healthily, righteously, and quickly (preferably, before the sun sets  – Ephesians 4:26).  I have never hit anyone with my car, but far too many times I have angrily cut them with the sharp sword of my tongue (Psalm 57:4), burned them with its fire, and poisoned them with its venom (James 3:5-8).  My most frequent victims have been those that I love the most.  Outbursts of anger are actions of the fleshly, sinful nature, not an evidential fruit of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23).  Uncontrolled anger and abusive speech are a part of our old wardrobe of sin and are not included among the holy attitudes and actions with which we are to be clothed in Christ (Colossians 3:8-14).  While legitimate concerns exist about road rage, we are far more likely to yield to the temptations of its relatives that typically don’t make headlines, but nonetheless kill friendships, fracture families, and end marriages. 

Since my last blog post included part of the chorus of Brandi Carlile’s song “Again Today,” I might as well add the opening lines of the first verse, since they are pointedly relevant to today’s subject.

 Broken sticks and broken stones
Will turn to dust just like our bones
It’s words that hurt the most, now isn’t it?