Precious Words

Some people, we think, just talk too much and end up putting their foot in their mouths. If they would only learn the value of listening (silence) then they might see that we don’t always need to hear their opinion about everything and may, in fact, learn something that may challenge their perceived intelligence. Consider the saying “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” Indeed sometimes silence is preferred to words, such as when parents want their children to be quiet in the presence of guests, or even in the spiritual sense when one is, for example, meditating on the word of God.

And, in a sense, words only have meaning against their counterpoint, silence. Without (some) voluntary silence our words would be an endless chatter and indistinguishable from each other.

We can only imagine the silence of eternity. What was being said when we were not there? (we are self-centered creatures after all) All men are lost in the awesomeness but also the coldness of the question of eternity because it is incomprehensible to us. Whether we believe it was some divine Creator or impersonal force(s) that is responsible for the creation of the universe, someone or something always was. So before we were, there was. For many, believing there is nothing in the universe but impersonal forces, it just was.

Out of this meaningless cosmos we have arrived with our millions of years of evolution to the point of being able to speak intelligibly with one another (even to the extent that each language carries the potential to be understood or translated into any other language known to man). But our chatter has been understood to merely be a higher form as found in animal kingdom who, it is claimed, also communicate.

The problem is that if our speech is merely a product of random forces (even if seemingly intelligent and purposeful) they ultimately have no meaning in light of something that just happened for no reason whatsoever; that just was. The meaning we ascribe to our words and thoughts then is only apparent and not real. We may think it has meaning today in the context of certain events and we may even feel inspired by the speech of others but in this worldview of nothingness it is difficult, if not impossible, to see some ultimate or transcendent purpose to our words.

But then we have to face the reality of anarchy, at least as far as communication goes. Consider the law of non-contradiction which states that something cannot be something and not the opposite of that something at the same time and in the same way. A cannot be not A when it is A. Or, to make it simple, a dog cannot be a dog and not a dog at the same time and in the same way. If a dog is no longer a dog then don’t call it a dog. Call it something else. Like a whale or an apple or whatever it has become (or whatever it was).

Now is that law, as some have pointed out, merely a convention? Something we have invented in our minds? Something that does not really exist independently of our thoughts? It certainly should be if there if everything just is. I suppose too that if that is the case then this whole post would have no meaning at all or could mean the opposite of what I had intended it to be.

For some reason, though, some people would get quite upset if we had the courage to ascribe to them the opposite of what they said (or whatever meaning we might want to give it). Imagine the consternation of our evolutionist friends if after they gave a rousing speech on the veracity of Darwin’s theory of evolution and a condemnation of the dim-wittedness of creationist sympathizers, we said “So you totally agree with me.” They would undoubtedly reply “No I don’t! Didn’t you listen to anything I said?” And we say “You really have changed your views, haven’t you? So when are you going to start coming to our church’s Bible study?” Stunned silence would naturally follow.

It appears necessary then to propose an alternative; one that I will leave to the reader to comprehend whether or not it makes more sense (although in reality if this alternative is true they have no choice but to believe it for all words to the contrary are a suppressing of the truth – Romans 1:18).

In the beginning was God (Genesis 1:1). If there was silence in eternity past it was because God willed it. In the midst of this silence, then, God spoke and whatever he willed was done by the words that He spoke. That is the reality that God wanted appeared by His words, immediately and without fail (see Hebrews 11:3). Moreover, He made man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). So He did not make man like the rest of His creation. He did not speak them into existence but formed him out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). He was because God made Him be.

But because God created him in His image, man spoke too. Man has meaning and his communication has meaning because God made him to reflect his Creator who gave meaning to everything. Though he could not speak anything into existence man could name things and thus, in this way, be like God. He named the animals and he even named his wife. And when we look at it from this perspective we see the preciousness of words, or better that words are a gift from God.

For even God and man could talk, they could speak with one another. Precious words flowed between the Creator and His creature. They could understand each other, and man could be thankful for the many blessings he received and obey the commands of God.

But someone else spoke too. It was another creature. He spoke lies and persuaded man to believe in his lies. His lies through man’s rebellion or belief in the lies brought death and misery into the world. Now when man speaks he does so according to the lies that he believed (Genesis 3; Romans 3:13-14).

Yet God was not willing that that would be the final word. No, He said that He would put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Indeed the seed of the woman would crush the head of the lying serpent (Genesis 3:15). He said it would happen, in fact He guaranteed it because His words are not only given meaning by His Godhead and eternal existence but also because He always keeps His promises and is fully capable of fulfilling or doing everything He said He would ever do (2 Corinthians 1:18-20 & Hebrews 6:13ff.)

Though man could say nothing to convince God to stop Him from judging Him for His sins, though he couldn’t take God to court (Job 9:32) and defend himself, some said that God would provide salvation (Genesis 22:8). And God graciously spoke to His people (Israel) of old through His appointed prophets, guiding them through His Spirit in order that the people might know that He was sending a Saviour (2 Peter 1:21). 

Indeed God spoke to us though we didn’t want God to speak to us anymore. He sent the Word (His Son) into the world (John 1:1&14) so that all who would with the heart and mouth confess Him would be saved (Romans 10:8-13) from the judgment to come. This Word saves because He was silent before His accusers and opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:7). He did not defend Himself but went to His death. A man called Truth (John 14:6) was killed for a lie (Matthew 26:60ff). Yes heaven was silent too; no words were given in response to His statement “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” as He suffered and died on the cross (Matthew 27:46). Forsaken that we might live forever, before the presence of our God, our Lord and Saviour because Christ took the penalty due to believers for their sin.

We have learned now to be silent before him. Much like a child, as we considered earlier, has learned to wait for their turn to speak. We are not silent because our speech is ignorant or evil (though before salvation everything we say is such) but rather because we have seen our folly and consider our speech to be vain outside of Christ. “But the LORD is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20). We wait at the feet of our Master, Jesus. He talks; we listen. And we have begun to form good speech now, much like an infant learns to talk (for better or worse) by listening to the adults in their home. But our Lord’s speech is always sweet savour to us (2 Corinthians 2:14-16), like honey from a comb (Psalm 19:10), peace (Ephesians 2:17), as the choirmaster leading and directing us in our holy speech before God (Hebrews 2:12).

So we have also learned, by God’s Spirit, to be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). We understand and follow the command that our “speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6); that lies and deceit are to be replaced with the words of the gospel: the good news, the good words, the good speech of God’s grace and mercy to fallen man.

Perhaps you don’t agree. Maybe you don’t believe. But before you say anything, think: is what you are going to say mean something? anything? If not, why say anything at all? In the end, God will have the last word. But my hope for you is that His word is not final but also effectual for your sake: “who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Romans 4:1).

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