In the beginning was the Word.
That’s how it started. God spoke two words into the endless emptiness of eternity:
—Yehi ‘or, let there be light, and there was light.
More than that, it’s been obvious from the start, from the time when He used to walk with Man and Woman in the afternoon shade: God loves communication. He loves hearing His children tell Him all about their hopes and dreams. And He loves to reply, to break the silence with a word or two; He loves to bring a little of His light to their childish darkness.
They bear His image, these children of His. They have a little of His character ingrained within them. They have a little of His love for words. They have a little of the power with which He expresses those words—because words are powerful. They have a little of the same urge He has to create, to use His words to bring light to dark places. They have a deep-seated need to use those words to worship Him. But these children are just that: children. They haven’t learned all the tricks of their Father’s trade.
And there’s an Enemy out there, a pervert, a predator who wants to use and abuse the children for his own ends. An Enemy with the cold slimy heart of a snake coiled and ready to strike. An Enemy who’s learned how to use words. Not his own—the Enemy has no creative power. But it didn’t take him long to figure out how to twist the Father’s words, how to use their innate power for his own purposes: seduction, desecration, destruction. And it didn’t take long for his pernicious plans to infiltrate the innocent minds of helpless children.
So now they’re no longer innocent. The children of God know how to use the power of their words to worship and serve themselves. And far too often they do just that. The gift of language, that precious power with which He entrusted them, is turned against Him. The word that created so much is found to be able to destroy it even more quickly. The word that once brought light to life out of an endless darkness now snuffs that light without a second thought.
God looks at His twisted children, and His heart breaks for them, and His Spirit stirs within Him, and He whispers the saddest words:
—You are not my people, He says, and I will not be your God.
The story doesn’t stop there, of course. Because we children don’t hear His words, God sends His Word to begin something new—In principio est verbum, in the beginning is the Word. The perfect Word, the eternal Word, with the power to create us a way of escape from the Enemy’s abuse.
But it’s strange how hard it is to unlearn the habits the Enemy taught us. It’s terrible, really: we still seduce and destroy our brothers and sisters with our words. Without a second thought, we hurt and crush and disregard; we bite and devour each other.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how terribly we of the household of faith treat each other, how judgmental we are toward each other. We let our little differences get in the way of the communication that God meant us to have. Instead of talking things over, we love to criticize them loudly (I guess pretending to know it all makes us feel smart). We love to bite off heads. It gives us that crazy rush of adrenaline.
But sometimes when heads are bitten off, the damage is irreversible.
It’s not that we’re not supposed to use the power of words. Au contraire, God intends us to use that power for His kingdom. And that’s where this problem is most serious: though we know God, we don’t glorify Him as God. We become vain in our words, and our foolish hearts are darkened. We’ve been given words that free, yet too often we use our words to bind. When we indulge in verbal cannibalism, neither the eaters nor the eaten are taking the time to go teach all nations.
James looks at this whole mess and comes down hard on it:
—No one can tame his tongue. It’s undisciplined and evil, it’s dripping with deadly venom.
But he goes on to say that God can tame it (which makes sense after all: shouldn’t the One Who created words be able to reverse the damage we’ve done to them?):
Where people are jealous, where they look out only for their own interests, everything will be twisted and degenerate. But when they get wisdom from above, they become pure—peaceable—gentle—reasonable—merciful and fruitful—they are freed from bias and hypocrisy. And those who make peace, those who scatter the seeds of peace, will reap righteousness.
That’s a vision for the church, it’s a vision for this blog, it’s a vision for you and a vision for me.
He’s a Palestinian. Everyone involved in his society, from the American diplomat with a hat four sizes too big for her to the dirt-poor goatherd, knows the destructive power of words. But Manal Hreb says it so well:
Bein hachoshekh la’or elech tamid
uvachol makom shelekh.
Eftach chalon, chalon shel ‘or,
v’azra zi’rei ah vah.
Bayn al ‘atmah w’al nur sa’amshee dayman
wabekul makan sa’amshee
sa ‘aftah shubaak, shubaak annur
wa sa azra buthoor al hohb.
Between darkness and light I will always walk,
and wherever I will go,
I will open the window of light,
and will plant the seeds of love.
And it all starts with a word.