I was reminded, while teaching at our fellowship this morning, of how important it is in the way we structure our words. Used carefully, they can establish a foundation for going forward, and used casually, they can reveal the health of our faith and how we really feel at the core. I'll get to this morning in a bit, but first let me share a few examples that have been powerful in my life in the past . . .
Example 1: What we place before and after the word "but." I forgot where I first heard this, but it immediately resonated with me as very powerful and true. Look at the following two hypothetical examples, spoken by someone who has some real problems.
1. "God is good and powerful and loving, but I am dealing with x, and y, and z."
2. "I am dealing with x, and y, and z, but God is good and powerful and loving."
The first statement reminds me of times when someone is listing medical issue after issue and you ask if you can pray for them and you do, pouring your heart into it, asking for God to heal them, and you've barely ended with "amen" and they are already pouring out about everything wrong with them as if you never prayed. It is as if they held their breath waiting for you to finish so they could continue listing and focusing on their problems. You've just come before the throne of the most holy God, but in their mind clearly their issues outweigh the idea that He might actually have responded to the prayer and be working in them. This first example is like that. There is the ("obligatory" for Christians) recognition of the traits of God, but then the dwelling and focusing on and resting in all the problems.
The second statement is also aware of the problems (not an ostrich in the sand pretending all is Polyanna), but there is a greater awareness of who our God is. It is an honest assessment of both, and a recognition that God is ultimately God, He is active in our lives, He loves us, and He is Whom our hope lies in.
It is worth paying attention to—how the words come from our mouth and what they reveal about what place we are really in when it comes to our worship, faith, hope, etc. It is Joshua and Caleb returning from spying out the land, "Yes, the cities are fortified and the people huge, but if God is with us the land is ours!" (Numbers 14:6–9, my paraphrase). I guaranteed David was not unaware of Goliath's size and fury, but he knew, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (1 Samuel 17:37a).
Example 2: "Pro" and "anti." I remember as a young Christian the frustration of the media's refusal to change its language regarding the abortion issue. It insisted on labeling those in favor of abortion as "Pro Choice" (i.e. for something, positive, not negative) and those against abortion as "anti abortion" (instead of Pro Life, making them sound like negative, against things, etc.). The very word usage from the start painted one in a favorable and positive light and the other as against things and negative. The words mattered, and they revealed a lot about the media and its bias.
Well, this morning I realized that I'd fallen into a trap when I used some words in a certain order. I had showed the fellowship a chart of the milestones of the world's population and how it reached 1 billion in 1804, then, by the present, was increasing a billion every 12 years (see graphic). I was talking about exponential progression (i.e. take 8, the number of people on the ark, and double it only 30 times to get 8.6 billion; or give a person a penny one day and two the next and four the next and keep doubling and after 30 days the person has over 10 million dollars!). I made the point that if man was much older than a young earth Creation view we are missing billions of bodies! To the contrary, in fact, the world's population milestones completely agree with a young earth interpretation of Genesis.
But . . . the words I used were, "So, we see in the population milestones more reasons to believe in the most obvious reading of Genesis . . ." Suddenly I stopped. I realized in a moment (you know how so many thoughts can go through your mind in nothing flat) that I had by my words revealed a defensiveness—implied that we might actually need reasons to believe in a literal Genesis. I'd given huge ground to the other side simply in the way I worded it. Implicit in my words was the idea that there might actually BE any reasons to interpret Genesis differently, or that the weight of evidence favored interpreting it differently and we had to defend it. Suddenly I thought, and then said something like, "No, let me rephrase that. In the world's population milestones we find no reason to interpret Genesis any other way then the most obvious reading of it—and nor do we in any other field of science."
It may not seem like a big change, but it is huge. The first way I said it cries out, "Genesis is under attack and I need to defend why, and find reasons why, I can believe in the most literal reading of it." The seconds says, "Wait a minute. The most literal reading of Genesis is the most obvious, and there are no reasons to read and interpret it any differently."
Why am I the one defensive? My first words express having cracked with the pressure and feeling like I needed to explain why we could "come back" to Genesis when the reality is, with no internal reason in the Bible to interpret Genesis any differently, the burden is on those who would interpret it differently to show the evidence for it. And there isn't any. And in the population milestones we don't find any either.
And words matter. They establish:
1. A foundation for going forward
2. The starting point and assumptions of a conversation
and they reveal the nature and position of our heart.