Sunday, January 9, 2011

The power of words

In the beginning was the word...
God spoke and it came into being...

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a word as, "a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing." The theology of both Old and New Testament recognize that words are something more.

In the first story of creation the word of God is the power that brings the universe into existence. With his ruah (breathe/spirit),God gives life to humanity. Thorough his Word we are made.

The scriptures also tell us that we are created in his image and likeness. A part of that similarity is that God has given us an intellect and a will. We can think and we can choose, and we can speak. And like God, our words have power, the power to create and the power to destroy, the power to lift up and the power to tear down, and the power to inspire.

This weekend we have suffered the tragic deaths of six people, and wounding of twelve others. Did the shooter suffer from some degree of mental illness? It would seem from what we know so far that the answer to that question is yes. But the deeper question is what inspired him? What words focused his anger on this person at this time?

The sheriff who clearly has more pieces to the puzzle than he is able to share at this time, spoke passionately about the danger of the vitriol that has become a regular part of our political speech, and the particular susceptibility of the mentally ill.

Over the next few days and weeks I'm sure we will hear the purveyors of this vitriol on each side vilify each other while absolving themselves of any responsibility for such heinous actions. The press will try to ignore the reality that the constant retelling of this kind of story inspires "copy cats", looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

Ultimately we must face the truth of the Scriptures, words have power. And every time we prepare to open our mouths and speak, every time we retell what we have heard, we need to think. Words have an effect, and the effects over time are cumulative.

Will we create or destroy?
Will we build up or tear down?
Who will we inspire and how?
What will we say today?