Oct 28, 2016

No Such Thing as 'Just Words'

By Cheryl Magness

When asked in a presidential Town Hall to comment on the offensive remarks he made about women in a 2005 video, Republican nominee Donald Trump said, "It's just words." Whatever one thinks of that response, the attempt to draw a line between words and actions is something to which most people can probably relate. Certainly each of us can recall times when we would not have fared well if judged by our words. We sometimes find it useful to engage in small talk and pleasantries that hide rather than share our true feelings. We teach our children to separate words from actions when we tell them, in response to teasing and name-calling, that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

And yet the truth is that words don’t exist in a vacuum. They stand for things, which means they have great potential for both good and harm. Election season is unfortunately often a reminder of the latter. In trying to study the candidates and discuss with friends and family the choice we have been given, we may have experienced the pain of words coming between us and people we care about. In listening to the candidates, reporters and analysts, we may have felt frustrated, angry, or anxious, perhaps wishing all the words that daily bombard us would just go away.

Why is it this way? Isn’t language a gift of God? Isn’t it supposed to help? The answer is yes. But language, like all of God’s good gifts, has been stained by sin. That which was intended to be a vehicle for truth is now too often a tool for evil and deception. George Orwell, in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” noted that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” He could as easily have made his observation about language in general. In the hands of fallen mankind, words are just another means of trying to assert our will over God’s. As we do with all of His gifts, we take and twist the gift of language, using it for our own selfish purposes instead of as He intended.

We should not be surprised that when Satan wants to get a foothold, one of the first things he goes after is our words. They are, after all, a huge part of what makes us human, connecting us to one another in and across time and providing the starting point for almost any human endeavor. What better way to attack us? Satan, in tempting Adam and Eve to sin, used words to plant seeds of doubt about God’s words for them, asking, “Did God actually say?” Satan knew that if he could make Adam and Eve question their Creator’s words, their relationship with that Creator, and with each other, would be devastatingly compromised.

So it is with our own relationships. Words allow us to express both the best and the worst of ourselves. We can turn on a dime from using our words to speak comfort, encouragement, and love to using them to tear down, mock and belittle. We complain about the politicians who play fast and loose with words, yet if we are honest with ourselves, we are just as guilty as they are of picking and choosing on the basis of utility or convenience which words we will honor. We readily cast blame when others hurt us with their words, but when our own words are shown to be unkind we hide behind the same tired defense as the politicians: “That’s not what I meant. Those were just words. You are the one who has misunderstood.”

Ultimately, though, we must acknowledge that no matter where we find ourselves--in the locker room, the Church, the political arena, the workplace, on Facebook, or in our own home--words don’t stand apart from actions. Words mean things. Not only do they mean things—they do things. “In the beginning was the Word, and theWord was with God, and the Word was God.” It was through His words that God the Father spoke the world into existence. It was through the Word made flesh that He carried out His plan of salvation for His creation. It is through His holy Word that He continues to call, gather and enlighten the saints as they await His return at the end of time.

For many, perhaps for most of us, this campaign has been a particularly wearying one, due in no small part to the words that have permeated it. Thanks be to God that it is almost over! Thanks be to God also that when our human words are anything but God-pleasing, He calls us to repentance, extending His gifts of forgiveness, grace and mercy. In Him and Him alone we are able to turn from our sinful human words and wrap ourselves in those life-giving words spoken at our Baptism: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” On November 9 as we awake to a new political landscape, whatever it may be, let us rise as on every other day and return to our Baptism, keeping our eyes fixed on the cross of Christ and trusting in His Word as we continue to live out the life He has bought for us.


Cheryl is the sister of ten, daughter of two, mother of three, and wife of one. She was an English teacher in a past life but these days freelances as a writer and musician. She blogs at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale and has also been published by The FederalistAmerican ThinkerOnFaith, and Touchstone magazine. Cheryl lives in Oklahoma with her husband, a Lutheran cantor, and their three children.

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