I think I forget the power of words at times. That’s not a good thing in my ‘line of work’. At a foundational level, all I use are words. Of course, they are to be about the Word (made flesh). My creativity is not in ‘making up’ stories but rather in using words that will communicate or transmit The Story or rather His Story to people who have their own ‘set’ of words. I need to concentrate to keep ‘my’ words to a minimum because it is ever so easy to ‘slip George in’ and get the hearer to focus on or notice me. The world – indeed other religions – would prefer actions which they say are louder than words but I fear that actions might indeed be used by sinners to actually drown out the words. (How many times have I heard that ‘good people go to heaven’?!) I don’t want to excuse away deeds – after all, faith without works is dead – I just want deeds to be built on the right words.
So what has got me muttering almost metaphysically? Because earlier this week my words caused a stranger to looked shocked and say ‘you can’t say that?!’. There were two of them who had come unsolicited to my door and wanted to talk about God and suffering and how life could be lived well. I was busy. (The British Lutheran needed to be finished!) I didn’t have time. Previous experience of such conversations meant that they weren’t going to listen to me and I wasn’t going to accept their point of view. So I interrupted the opening remarks and said some-thing like, ‘Look, guys, you’re actually going to hell for salvation is only in Jesus Christ’. It was the words ‘going to hell’ that got the response and a sense, on reflection, that they saw me as a rude individual. (There was no shouting or anger visible on either side – just a genteel ‘cut and thrust’ of words – verbal fencing – as each of us tried to ‘score points’.) ‘Of course I can say that. Why do you looked shocked? If you’re right then there is no hell and my words are nothing but if I’m right …’ We agreed to differ.
Words have always to convey, in my view, two things – truth and love. Or is that love and truth? We like sequences and priorities and possibly tend to put one in front of the other depending on the circumstances but I think we have to live with the tension of both / and. Did my words do that? I could argue – insist even – that my words were truthful and as for the love … well, perhaps it is ‘tough love’. But such thinking allows me to say anything and claim to that it is true and loving. Who determines what is said? The speaker? The hearer? Again it is both and the speaker has the responsibility for clarity. But our world has so many words precisely because we don’t agree on much.
I read Peter’s Pentecost sermon from time to time and remain quite amazed that he ‘got away with it’. He called them killers! 3,000 baptised? Which preacher doesn’t want that?! But then I remember that the power is not Peter but the whole point of the gathering of the crowd was the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, our words about God and sufferings and how life could be lived well wouldn’t communicate. Christians have faith in Jesus because of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t absolve me from speaking with truth and love – I am responsible for making the story as winsome as possible – but should I speak before thinking or misjudge the hearers, then the Holy Spirit can still use even those words. Words are powerful. Handle with care. I wonder what I’ll say the next time there’s a knock at the door? — GS