It amazed me to see how quickly the bombers at the Boston (Massachusetts) Marathon on April 15, 2013 were identified and either killed or captured—thanks in part to security cameras and those ubiquitous cell phones almost everyone carries. Their friends were soon identified and investigated, essentially by their text messages! It’s truly a case of “…by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” (Matthew 12:37).
Words are such fly-away things. I hold thousands of them in my hands with the morning newspaper and by evening I have tossed all or most of them in the recycle trash. Words, and the actions which follow them, are the source of some of life’s greatest pain and disappointment—or some of its deepest joy. I am so rich because of words—not rich in money or things but in spirit and heart.
But what of words written or spoken in haste, under the influence of anger, pride, prejudice, judgmental self-righteousness, foolishness—or for whatever reason—words that someone else might read or hear and be offended by? Words that can cause pain or death of a spirit? I’ve felt the pain of hurtful words. And I’ve been guilty, intentionally or not, of inflicting pain on others by my words—or lack of them—when words of comfort or encouragement could have made a difference.
James 3:1-12 compares the tongue, in part, to the rudder of a large ship. Or to a small flame which can set a whole forest ablaze.
That whole tragedy of three lives lost at the Marathon and 264 people maimed or injured was based, according to what I’ve read and heard, primarily on the steady diet of inflammatory printed and spoken words that the brothers had ingested from anti-American publications, the Internet, and a mentally-damaged man whose disabled wife the young men helped their mother care for. In their act of friendship, they became so absorbed by hatred that they became willing to kill and die for it.
As I write, the verdict isn’t in on the younger, surviving brother, but the old adage stands true: GIGO—“Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Not kitchen garbage but toxic waste from people’s minds and lives that is offered as friendship, entertainment, lifestyle, and “religious instruction.” The nature of what we take in affects the nature of what we put out.
Christ said our idle words will come again to haunt us in the Judgment: “…For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks….But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment,” (Matthew 12:34, 36).