4–10 August 2019.
There is a widespread assumption in our society that it is only actions that are really harmful. To raise a hand against others, to hit others, to beat others, to use weapons to kill and cut is terribly wrong and severely punished. But simple words (so the thinking goes) are nothing, and can never really hurt people in the same way. But of course this assumption is very wrong.
And we all know it’s wrong, because all of us have been hurt so deeply before by the things that other people have said. Bruises quickly heal, but decades later many of us still carry the wounds of hurtful words that someone once said to us. All of us have been hurt by words before, we know how destructive lies and gossip can be because we have experienced that firsthand. And yet we keep spreading this false idea that it’s only violent actions rather than violent words that are a problem. Maybe we try to convince ourselves of this because we want to reassure ourselves after we have hurt others with our own harmful words.
But the writer of Psalm 120 knows the truth. The psalm opens with a passionate cry to God in prayer: “In my distress I cry to the Lord!” (v. 1). But that terrible distress isn’t coming from violent actions, but “from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” (v. 2). The deep hurt that lies, gossip, and slander cause pushes the writer to desperately seek rescue from God – but also punishment on all those people who use their words in this way (vv. 3–4).
In verses 5–7 the psalm writer reminds us that words are not only harmful in our personal lives, they are also incredibly destructive in our social and political lives too. Every day we see foolish and careless politicians on the world stage using their words to stir up hatred and division, using words to pull their societies apart and even push their countries towards war. Maybe some like to pretend that these are just meaningless words, but the psalm writer knows how irresponsible and dangerous such words can be. “I search for peace; but when I speak of peace, they want war!” (v. 7).
Words have power – the power to comfort and encourage others, but also the power to hurt, divide, and destroy. For these reasons we need to be especially careful how we speak to one another, and keep a close watch over how our politicians and social leaders use their words.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis