“The Power of Words”
I have always been aware of, and even fascinated by, words. Over and over again, I witness the power of words. “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29) “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18). The Bible itself is called The Word of God. Many books of the Old Testament are about the prophets, people set apart to speak the Word of God to others. John calls Jesus “The Word”. Indeed, words have great power.
However, more and more I am coming to the understanding that along with great power comes great responsibility. Words, and especially The Word, must be used with care and wisdom. The misuse of words, no matter how well-intentioned, can bring about great harm. I witnessed this repeatedly over the last several days as I sat with a close friend. Shortly before I met her, this woman, at the age of 59, had her heart broken as she watched her oldest daughter die following complications from an unexpected heart attack. And now, nearly eight years later, she sits in the hospital awaiting the death of her second child. As you can imagine, she is enduring unspeakable pain and grief. Throughout the days, friends and family have passed through the hospital room and waiting area, and inevitably each one seems to tell her, “God promises not to give you more than you can bear.”
Each time I hear these words, I cringe. Paul tells the Corinthians, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” Yet the verse that keeps being quoted to my friend would imply that she can handle this. Unfortunately, the verse they are referring to is 1 Cor. 10:13, which reads, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Great, powerful words, but they are also very specific words, referring to temptation and the fact that we don’t need to sin just because we are tempted. What my friend is facing is unbearable sorrow. Unbearable grief. Unbearable heartache. And certainly God is her ultimate source of comfort right now. But no matter how well-intentioned, it is harmful to misuse, misinterpret, and misapply these words. With great power comes great responsibility.
So, as I enter my world and use words in my family, with my neighbors, at work, I want to be conscientious about what I say and how I say it. I want to choose my words with wisdom and discernment. And so I pray with the psalmist, for me, and for all of us: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).