The topic of free speech was raised and I found myself saying that there was no such thing! Not really. For Christians, all our speech is to be truthful and in love. (And that isn’t meant to be an excuse for a full tirade of faults said ‘because I love you really’ and ‘it is the truth’ – which really means well, it’s definitely my truth’.) What I meant was that my relationship with
the person or the topic under discussion guides my speaking and that isn’t freedom as such.
Of course we physically can say any words – but the fact that we select the words we say for an effect means that we know firstly that words are powerful – they have effects – and secondly, we say them for the effects we want. That’s why we speak – to communicate ourselves.
I imagine free ‘free speech’ – true free speech if I can put it that way – can only happen with God. He can and does speak freely. (I wonder whether our desire for free speech is a desire – maybe conscious, more likely not so conscious – to be god or god-like – my word shapes my world and you can like it or lump it sort of thing?) God’s Word is powerful in that what he says happens! Think creation. Think Jesus – the Word made flesh – and his words and deeds to us. Think the Absolution, Baptism, Holy Communion spoken in Jesus’ name. Things are happening when such words are spoken! Imagine us with such power! We’d destroy the world! We don’t have that sort of ‘performative utterance’ power but our words are still powerful and these days, it seems to me, that as we lose confidence in words – debate and distrust truth – we instead gravitate to personalities or particularly perspectives and their words become ours.
I, sometimes, am told that religion and especially Christianity is a brainwashing whereby people switch their brains off. My observation is that often the people who tell me this want their own autonomy – to be their own god in my language – for various reasons. I tell them and my
Confirmation classes that to come to church – following Jesus – is about switching your brain on so as to listen. It takes energy and effort because it is tough work listening when we want our free speech so much. Christians want to listen to the God who speaks, who reveals himself, who can say some pretty tough, rough, and challenging things and who also says completely unexpected, amazing, and merciful things as well. These words reveal him and his will. These words reveal his freedom to do as he wishes. These words speak of his patience and grace and his dealing with sin, rebellion, and evil (which won’t get away with what they have caused). Such words – revelations – now written in the library called ‘The Bible’ reveal the mystery that this God’s free speech is truly for us rather than for himself.
And in a relationship with such a God, life – everything – we ourselves – are changed – new creations it is said, still living in this world plagued by sin, rebellion, and evil but living ‘in Christ’ and if we have learnt anything in this relationship with Jesus it is that words are pre-
cious, they matter, they are powerful and they are always to be used truthfully and in love.