Headlines are designed not only to make us buy a newspaper or magazine, but to read it, in order to change the way we think. News headlines on the TV are designed to lure us into watching the entire programme. Once impressions are made it can be hard to shift them.
The programme Have I got news for you? usually has two panels of famous people who are quick witted and skilled with words. The show has cultivated a reputation for sailing close to the wind in matters of libel, with its satirical, light-hearted format.
There have been times I have found myself laughing at the comments made, then felt guilty afterward because I knew the joke came at someone else’s expense.
Behind the headlines are people. Every politician, celebrity, victim is a person with feelings and it must cause them pain when their personal flaws are fodder for an entertainment show.
Words hurt. We make all sorts of excuses why it is OK for us to be cruel and unkind with words, but it doesn’t change the hurt we cause and it doesn’t erase the words. What about all the words we should have said that were left unsaid? Flippant, sarcastic, arrogant, dismissive, angry, rude, manipulative, destructive are some of the descriptions of words that take life away not only from ourselves, but from the people we speak them to.
Encouraging, loving, true, uplifting, gracious, inspiring, gentle — these are the kinds of words we should aim to speak more of.
Let’s go back to the beginning again to see just how important words are. God spoke the universe into existence. R. C. Sproul describes it eloquently: ‘The first sound uttered in the universe was the voice of God commanding “Let there be!”…
‘As soon as the words left the Creator’s mouth, things began to happen. Where his voice reverberated, stars appeared, glowing in unspeakable brilliance in tempo with the songs of angels’ (The holiness of God, Tyndale House, p.19).
God’s words are powerful beyond description: ‘God is not man that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfil?’ (Numbers 23:19).
What God says is always consistent with who he is. His words are true and reliable, and all his promises will be fulfilled. He uses his words to communicate. In his creation, he communicated his greatness, glory, power, creativity, love and wisdom.
God made it so simple for man at the beginning. There were no big, long speeches. He told Adam clearly what was expected and what would happen if he didn’t obey. Adam didn’t argue or question the instruction God gave him.
Adam’s first recorded words in Genesis 1-3 were about Eve: ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man’ (2:23).
The next person we hear from is the devil, in the guise of a snake. Reasonable, rational words are put to Eve in the form of a question. ‘Are you serious? Did he really say that?’
Satan’s words were measured. He knew how to attack by making God look like a villain. I have news for you — he hasn’t changed his tactics!
The woman, foolishly unperturbed that a snake was talking to her, replied, and we have the first recorded case of ‘spin’. She did not repeat God’s words accurately, but added her own spin, ‘You must not touch it, or you will die’ (3:3). She misrepresented God who had never forbidden her from touching the fruit, only from eating it.
Everything changed quickly and I don’t think it took either Adam or Eve very long to realise the devil had been extremely economical with the truth. He had blatantly lied. You can feel the fear and the shame as Adam and Eve try to cover themselves up.
We may think that the ‘blame culture’ started in the twentieth century, but it has been around since the dawn of time — everyone blaming each other, instead of taking responsibility for their own actions.
God listened and then pronounced his verdict on the three of them. I find it fascinating that in the verdict given to the devil God gives the promise of a future Redeemer.
It was doubled edged: God’s promise of a Redeemer for man would mean the defeat of the devil. ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman. And between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel’.
He was, in effect, saying to both Adam and Eve, ‘You have let me down and you will have to accept the consequences of not believing me, but one day I will send someone to put right what you have done wrong’.
At the first Christmas, this promise of God at the dawn of time was fulfilled. Jesus took on flesh and was born into our world: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:4).
The Redeemer didn’t come wielding a sword, chasing a crown, or with an army behind him. He arrived in the same way you and I did — as a tiny bundle of life, not speaking, but crying.
Even though he didn’t look like anything special, it was his words that gave the first indication he wasn’t the same as other children. At twelve years old he was talking in the temple like a teacher! Our words always reveal what is in our hearts.
Jesus’ words are true, gracious, life-giving and challenging. He conquered Satan by his life, death and resurrection, and by his powerful words. His words were always consistent with the way he lived his life.
We too should listen to and obey them. ‘But if anyone obeys his Word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
‘If anyone claims, “I know him well!” but doesn’t keep his commandments, he’s obviously a liar. His life doesn’t match his words. But the one who keeps God’s Word is the person in whom we see God’s mature love’ (based on 1 John 2:4-6, The Message).
© Dena Macleod