By: Deji Yesufu

A duel is a situation where two men come to settle their disagreement with a fight. Most times, the fight does not end in death, but in some extreme cases, it does. In a duel, each man comes to the fight with a weapon. It could be a knife, a sword, a gun, or just their fist. In a regulated environment, with an arbiter and witnesses, both men enter into the fight, and they settle their grievances this way. On occasions when the duel ends in fatality, there is a prior agreement signed by the two parties that the other person would not be prosecuted. The People’s Profile, a YouTube channel that tells the history of much of the West, has just published a video on a former American President – Andrew Jackson. When Jackson ran for president in the middle of the 19th century, one thing that his opponents brought against him was his love for duelling. On two or three occasions, Jackson had been involved in duels, and a few of them had resulted in fatalities.

On one occasion, Andrew Jackson came face to face with a man he had a grouse with. They agreed to settle the matter in a duel. In 19th-century America, duels had begun to experience a decline, and respectable men were not expected to fight in that manner. Yet, a few of them engaged in the old-fashioned thing. Jackson and his duelling partner faced each other on this particular day with their pistols. Usually, it is agreed that each person pulls his gun and shoots one time. You are not to fire a second time – no matter what. Jackson, on this day, did not realize that his pistol had not been properly serviced. So, when the guns were drawn, his opponent shot Jackson just a little above his heart and shattered his collarbone. Jackson also shot at his opponent, but his gun was jammed. As Jackson struggled on the floor, he pulled at the gun’s safety, re-engaged the pistol, and shot the man. The shot was fatal, and the man died. The real argument used against Jackson by his opponents during the election was that Jackson did not keep the agreement of the duel: he shot twice, rather than once.

These thoughts occupied much of my mind as I listened to the People’s Profile video. I came to the conclusion that there was something about the Ten Commandments that human beings were losing greatly from. The sixth commandment says: thou shall not kill. My children’s catechism adds: “What does the sixth commandment teach us?” Answer: “To avoid angry passions”. I can not fathom what kind of anger will lead grown, intelligent, and respectable men to engage in duels except for this thing: angry passions. Jesus likened anger to murder (Matthew 5:21-22), and in a practical sense, that is what it is.

The Bible gives us an indication that anger can be positive or negative. There are numerous scriptures that speak of God’s anger. Jesus experienced anger on some occasions. Ephesians 4:26 instructs believers “…be ye angry and sin not…” – in other words, there is a place for anger, but we must avoid allowing our anger to result in sin. We understand from biblical studies that God requires us to be angry at sin: both within ourselves and in others. Anything that will occasion sin to thrive anywhere should occasion our displeasure. The Bible also gives us the impression that as God’s people, we should love what God loves and hate what God hates. If God is angry at something, we must also be angry at it. However, the way and manner we display this anger matters. Anger must be directed at sin, and we must pursue to eradicate it both in us and in others. There is no justification to permit sin to reign in us – particularly in the church of God. Having said this, it is safe to say that the majority of the anger men manifest is a negative one and every time we see anger welling up in us, we must remember the children’s catechism: avoid angry passions.

I think the first step towards dealing with anger is understanding that it is a sin and that most angry passions within us do not originate from the Holy Spirit. It means that the moment we feel a fit of anger welling up, we want to bring it to God in prayers immediately. Then, maybe we do not want to talk. Most words spoken in fits of anger are usually not rational and godly words, so you do not want to talk much. Then, we must realize that seething anger manifests in many ways – the least of which is in character assassination. When we understand that anger and murder are first cousins, we realize that unrepented resentment is the root of character assassinations. You may comfort yourself with “speaking your mind”, but you have actually done this by misrepresenting that person both wrongly and unfairly, destroying his character and reputation, so that although the person may be alive, in the eyes of those you have narrated these things to, that person is dead. A lot more people have been killed this way than through actual murders.

There is a phenomenon that is rampant in churches: it is the process of cancelling people we do not agree with. This person may be within your own group, shares most of your position on the Bible, etc. But because you disagreed on one point of doctrine or practice, you go the full length of misrepresenting that person to others. You destroy his character and reputation. The man may be alive, but before the eyes of those you spoke, he is dead. The Bible is telling us that through your own resentment, hate, and anger, you have actually murdered a Christian brother. I have seen occasions where it took decades before the true picture was unveiled. In some cases, all parties go to their grave with a wrong perception of the other person. We owe ourselves a duty to close our ears to gossip; and when we do hear about a brother, we should hear his side first before we reach a conclusion on issues.

When anger is nursed for a long time, the result is a desire to kill. One woman told me that on one occasion, she had actually purchased rat poison potent enough to kill a human being. She brought the product home and intended to put it in her husband’s food. Somehow, conscience dissuaded her from doing it. Somebody told me that there is an area in Ibadan where all the people living there are female landlords – the story goes that all of them have taught each other to kill off their husbands. When you live with a spouse and you do not have control over your passions, it is very easy to allow a little resentment to grow into murderous thoughts and actions.

In a similar manner, duels are men taking angry passions to a logical conclusion. Wikipedia explains that with public opinion against duels becoming increasingly negative, the practice has dwindled in modern society. But in the days when duels were practised, even women engaged in the dastardly act. What we see in Western cowboy movies, with two men drawing their guns and shooting at each other, is a duel. The only thing is that in real-life duels, the fatalities were usually not often. But in some cases, people are killed. When anger is unbridled, men lose their sense of rationality, and they can go to any extent to settle scores with the object of their anger. It is understandable that people who are not regenerated will do things like this. But for Christians, it must be different.

We must admit that we can be angry; we must also agree that on some occasions we have allowed our anger to result in sin; and most of all, we must submit every resentment and angry passion to the feet of God the Holy Spirit, and request that he help bring them under control. With time, a raging bull of a man, under the power of the Holy Spirit, becomes a lamb of a saint. Nothing is impossible with God. We should understand that a man without Christ and without God has no resources within him to bear fruit pleasing to God. One constant denominator of the unregenerate is that they are always angry. We see it with the road rages all around our streets; we see it in wars – kingdoms fighting kingdoms; we see it in broken homes; etc. The man who has however come under the power of the Holy Spirit has his sinful passions under control. One of them is his tendency towards anger. The Holy Spirit tames and redirects it. So that if the saint would be angry at all, he reserves his passions for righteous indignation alone.

Andrew Jackson’s time in the presidency of the United States of America was not one characterized by the rash decision of an angry man with a history of engaging in duels. Rather, he quite uncharacteristically emerged from his time in government as a thoughtful and successful ruler. Jackson was simply a man of his time, and the duel thing was something that men engaged in to preserve their honour. Jackson became a military general before eventually running for presidency and ruling America for two terms. By the time he was in Washington, Jackson was nearing his seventies and age had tempered most of his youthful temper. This situation, however, can not be equated with modern governments. The unending wars between Russia and Ukraine are fuelled by the angry passions of one man – Vladmir Putin. The Second World War was sustained by the irascible Adolf Hitler. And America is on the verge of electing Donald Trump – a man known for his unpredictability and unreserved tempers.

I end this essay by making the point that just as it is important for Christians to have their angry passions tamed, it is also equally important that leaders of nations tame their angry passions. Our world is today a nuclear one. Countries are distinguished by whether or not they own nuclear war heads. Since America detonated two nuclear bombs on Japan in the closing days of the Second World War, no other country has ventured on that idea. It will only take one man, who can not bridle his angry passion, to plunge our world into a nuclear holocaust. When God said “…thou shall not kill…” and the fathers advised that we all should curb our angry passions, this is what the Maker of the heavens and earth had in mind.

Deji Yesufu is the Pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan. He is the author of HUMANITY.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *