“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This centuries old rhyme is a pretty familiar idiomatic expression that we know not to be true because words carry power and power has the ability to build or destroy. How many times have we needed to apologize to someone for something we said? The inverse is also true. I recently needed to apologize to someone for something I inadvertently didn’t say.
I was reminded again of the power of words yesterday in church when my friend Rachel spoke. She is a language surveyor with Wycliffe Bible Translators and she talked about the need to not only get God’s Word into the hands of those who do not yet have access to the Bible in remote parts of the globe, but also the right meaning and inference when translating the Bible so there are not misunderstandings. Today, I started teaching an Interpreting Scripture course for Nazarene Bible College where we deal with properly understanding and making sense of the words that make up the theology we construct from the Bible. Last week I spent three days in an OCL course with masterful facilitators discussing the communication cycle and reflective listening.
We live in a culture where words are more jumbled than ever and people are talking past each other and not really listening. And if we do talk to each other it’s as if we are regurgitating the talking points that the culture and media has so nicely prepacked for mass consumption. As a society, we really do not have a language that unifies us, which is why we are so divided. We are living in 21st century Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9) resulting in consequences that are confusing, hurtful, and divisive.
A couple of beautiful reminders from the Bible (the message of love and reconciliation is the language that can unify us) that I would like to share when it comes to the words we speak: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but hard words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). “Gentle words bring life and health; but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). “A person’s words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
May we be people who clearly speak, communicate, and embody words of life in a Babelistic culture. When rightly used, words can be so affirming, and as the Bible says, life giving. But words used wrongly to castigate and vilify is taking the “s” in “words” and putting it before the “w” making our “words” to be a “sword”.