I have heard a saying over the years – “Stop Poking the Bear!” I guess I just never really thought too much about what that meant. But it came to my mind recently and I decided to check out exactly what it means when someone says that. This is what I found:
From phrases.org.uk: “It’s possible that the expression came from someone who had poked a bear, or at any rate had had enough experience with bears to know what would happen. Used figuratively, the bear can be any person or entity with a capability like that of a bear to inflict pain or damage…Don’t unnecessarily stir up trouble with, say, another government which might feel like getting back at you.”
From urbandictionary.com: “To act in such a way that has a good, but not definite chance, of causing trouble. (You can poke a bear once and maybe get away with it, but if you keep poking him, he’s going to get really angry.) To stir things up.”
Similarly, for the phrase “don’t poke the bear” urbandictionary.com says this: “A phrase of warning used to prevent oneself or others from asking or doing something that might provoke a negative response from someone or something else.”
It just seems to me that in our society, for many years, we have slipped into a habit of “poking the bear” – a LOT! Family members do it to one another. Friends and co-workers do it to those closest to them. Then we have politics – the people that seem to have become the poking champions. When this becomes a habit, what do we expect is going to happen?
When parents “poke” at a particular child or even all of their children it is going to build up resentment. What is going to be the result of resentment toward a parent(s) that continually pokes at them? The range of reactions can be from a withdrawn, self-conscious person that has no confidence in their abilities, to a person that is so angry that they turn to a life of crime – and everything in between. You might have the rare individual that determines “I’ll show them, I’m going to work hard and prove them wrong!”, then they work really hard to become a successful person. However, does that underlying insecurity and/or anger really leave them? Maybe. But I would venture that there is a high likelihood that they will use the “poking the bear” theory in their lives – maybe a blatant and in-your-face manner or, maybe in a very subtle, underlying, sly manner. I cannot determine in my mind which approach would be the most difficult to handle.
I believe that when a friend or close co-worker is a person that likes to “poke” at others, they will in time find themselves with no friends. This one can be very difficult. I know that there are times that I will tease someone about something – never really meaning to be offensive – and later realize that I am likely stepping over the line. So how the person doing the “poking” handles this awareness is what makes the difference. You can keep it up and possibly alienate that person, as well as others in your circle of friends or co-workers; or, you can back away and let it end.
When it comes to the political world, “poking a bear” can be a very dangerous proposition. There are a lot of dangerous weapons in our world today and there are a lot of very unstable people in charge of nations that could inflict a lot of pain on the world at large. In fact, one of the things mentioned in the phrases.org site that I quoted from above was this: “During the Cold War, the expression was often used with Russia as the bear. But it means more generally, don’t deliberately irritate anyone or anything that might make you sorry.”
It seems that beginning in the early 90’s the hateful rhetoric really started ramping up in this nation. Political elections increasingly got nastier every 4 years; and, unfortunately it was and has been equally egregious from both sides of the aisle. There are no winners with this behavior – it causes a nation to become divided; and, a nation divided is weaker and more vulnerable. There are some very large, powerful and dangerous enemies out there to our Democratic Republic. They want to do us harm. They want to control us. They keep poking at us and vice-versa. This is a formula for a horrendous outcome for the world.
So what do we do about this divide in our nation? This divide that takes our attention off of the more pressing agendas facing us today? This divide that causes splits in families and between friends? This divide that causes people to lose their jobs and/or their businesses? We must determine that we are going to start thinking with reason and clarity. We have to start ignoring the poking being done to us and stop the poking that we are doing to others.
As Christians, we need to look forward. We need to ask for forgiveness and we need to start praying for our nation and all of our leaders – whether we agree with them or not. Are these easy things to do? Not necessarily; but, they are a necessity if you want to make a difference and see things set on a path forward that will result in good for us all.
We need to remember that our God is large and in charge. But He is not going to allow us to continually engage in behavior that is not Christlike and get away with it. We need to take our hands off the wheel and give it to Him. 1 Peter 3:9 (TLB) says: “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t snap back at those who say unkind things about you. Instead, pray for God’s help for them, for we are to be kind to others, and God will bless us for it.” (For more confirmation on that idea you should also read: 1 Thessalonians 5:15 & Romans 12:17) And Jesus said in Luke 6:27-28 (NLT): “‘But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.’”
The people that do not know how to stop the poking, the people that only want to do what is good and right for themselves in their own eyes, foregoing what is good and right for all, will eventually get their due. But it is not up to us to dish it out. Romans 12:17-19 (NLT) says: “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.”
There is nothing in the Bible that says we cannot defend and protect ourselves in the face of danger. But we have to be cautious about our interpretation of danger. We cannot allow our emotions to rule over our common sense. We are told repeatedly in the Bible that we need to be slow to anger and to be wise in our thoughts and reactions. I believe that one of the most important things we can ask God for is wisdom. “How much better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver!” (Proverbs 16:16 NLT) “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT) “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding.” (Proverbs 3:13 NLT) (Proverbs is a book full of wonderful, sensible advice.)
So what would you prefer in your life? Wisdom, good judgment, joy, understanding? Or, to be foolish and undisciplined? I know that I would much prefer the first choices listed. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5 NLT)
It is a new day. It is a chance for us all to seek truth, seek wisdom and live a life above reproach. It is time for everyone to “stop poking the bear.”
Written by Karran Martin – January 16, 2021