Words and Things

Today is a rainy day. Yesterday the National Weather Service predicted a 100% chance of rain for today. Earlier this morning they said there was a 90% chance of rain, and later they downgraded it to an 80% chance of rain. I think the important point to take away is that there is a pretty strong possibility of rain. Since it is (probably) going to rain all day, I thought this would be a good day to sit at my computer with a cup of coffee and Hannah and write. Maybe later I will work on my whimsical project. Oh, and I have to pay bills today.

I’ve been thinking…

A friend and I have been trying to teach ourselves Hebrew for a number of years. We have many resources–books, websites, audio disks, and Jewish/Hebrew scholar friends we can call on for help. My friend and I often laugh that we are the slowest Hebrew students EVER because life keeps interfering with our studies. We had to put it aside when JJ was diagnosed with cancer and when we were in the process of moving, and we have put it aside for things happening in my friend’s life–but we don’t give up our desire to learn Hebrew. We really, really, really want to learn it.  I often say I want to learn Hebrew so I can greet the Messiah in His native language when I meet Him in person. I also want to learn it so I can read the Bible in Hebrew.

Hebrew is such an amazing language. If you study it like you study other languages–focusing on grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary words–you are totally missing layers of beauty and meaning. In Hebrew, every letter has a deep meaning, every word has a deep meaning, and every similarly spelled or sounding word is connected and has deep meaning.  Learning Hebrew involves learning about life and God. I think that Hebrew is like looking at common everyday objects through a microscope. You assume you know what an item looks like, but when you look deeper, you see strange, beautiful things that you couldn’t have imagined when just looking at the surface, such as in this video:


Take, for example, the Hebrew word דָבָר It is pronounced as “davar.” It means “word” but it also means “thing.” It is very odd that one word can mean two very different things. It seems like such an unrelated, random pairing, doesn’t it? Until you consider Genesis 1:

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light….

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so….

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,and let dry ground appear.” And it was so….

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so….

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so….

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind…

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so….

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”….So God created mankind in his own image…

“Words” and “things” really ARE connected because God spoke and through words brought the universe into being. Words are the creative energy of the world. Amazing, huh? But wait, there’s more.

Genesis 1 says that God created mankind in His own image. I believe that one of the ways that we are an image of God is that our human words can also create things. We can’t create the sun and moon or plants and animals like God can, but here are a few things our words can create. I’m sure you can think of more:

Through words, advertisers can influence what people buy. Their words bring “things” into people’s lives.

During election years, politicians go around giving speeches hoping to convince voters to elect them. When they are elected, they gain positions of power through which they can greatly affect policies, laws, society, and even the world. Their words can affect the world.

Hitler created Nazi Germany through his speeches–his words. His words stirred up anger and hatred. His words started a world war and caused countries to fall. His words created concentration camps. His words created a reality that killed millions.

I think England might have fallen without Winston Churchill, who gave courage and strength to his people during World War 2 with words like this:

…But for everyone, surely, what we have gone through in this period…this is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated. Very different is the mood today. Britain, other nations thought, had drawn a sponge across her slate. But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; and by what seemed almost a miracle to those outside these Islands, though we ourselves never doubted it, we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer…

We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be….

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old…

I feel like bravely standing against evil when I read Churchill’s words.

Our words are powerful in our individual interactions with people as well. We can encourage or discourage, we can motivate or de-motivate, we can heal or wound, we can build up or destroy, we can give hope or take it away, we can create beauty or ugliness with our words. Words can create; they can also un-create. I think this is what is most damaging about verbal abuse–or really any type of abuse. There is such a thing as “body language,” a way in which a person speaks through their body–and whether through actual words or through action, an abuser attempts to force his “reality” unto his victim, causing her (or him) to believe that she is unlovable, without worth, useless, stupid, ugly, without hope. It’s sort of like in fairy tales where a witch curses a prince and turns him into a frog or an unlovable beast.

The tongue has the power of life and death… (Prov. 18:21)

I struggle a lot with the message of words. I wish I could be a person who could quickly dismiss hurtful untrue words–and I am hopeful that someday I will be–but I am not yet so very long removed from abusive people so I still struggle against the “reality” they try to create for me. When I am insulted, I can almost feel myself being un-created, almost see myself transforming into what they say I am–unlovable, useless, worthless,  weak, stupid, ugly–right before my eyes, even though I know (kind of, almost, mostly) that what they say is not true. I fight back by reminding myself of what is true, of what the Bible says. I find it helpful to do this in writing, which is why after I’ve had an encounter with a person who verbally attacks with hurtful words, I often write posts about abuse. I have to rewrite what is not true with what is true, I have to replace a false reality with a true one. It’s a difficult battle at times. I also try to be careful with my own words so they do not wound or un-create others.

You’d think, then, that with words being so powerful, we should be very, very careful with words and never, ever say anything that is offensive, negative, judgmental, or could possibly wound another person. If we can’t say something good, kind, or true, you’d think it would be best to say nothing at all. If only it was that simple! Hint: It’s not that simple. It’s complicated.

We do have to be careful with our words. However, the truth is that sometimes our silence speaks even louder than our words. Words can kill, but so can silence. The reality is that not everyone is merely wounded. The Bible says that there really are evil people in the world, people

  • who delight in doing evil and rejoice in the perversity of evil (Prov. 2:14),
  • who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts (Ps 28:3),
  • whose feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood; Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, Devastation and destruction are in their highways (Isa 59:7).
  • Who wait in ambush for the godly, looking for an excuse to kill them. (Ps 37:32)
  • Who can’t sleep until they’ve done their evil deed for the day. They can’t rest until they’ve caused someone to stumble. (Prov 4:16)
  • Who speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. (Ps. 12:2)
  • “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” (Romans 3:13)

Evil people try to silence their victims because silence benefits them. If they can prevent their victims from exposing them, they can prevent others from seeing and recognizing evil, they can get people to support them and condemn victims, and they can continue to abuse more victims. Evil people kind of do Jedi mind tricks like Obi-wan did in Star Wars: A New Hope, by manipulating people into not seeing or believing things as they really are. “Nothing to see here. Move along….”

One way abusers do this “sleight of mind” is by accusing anyone who speaks out as “speaking evil,” of gossiping, and of being negative, critical, judgmental, bitter, unloving, unChristlike, and other such things.

If we remain silent about evil, we reinforce the abuser’s message that his victims are unlovable, worthless, useless, ugly, stupid.  If we remain silent about evil, we enable evil to grow more powerful and to continue to oppress and damage the vulnerable. So we MUST speak out at times. Ecclesiastes 3 says:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

As you can see, there is an appropriate time for everything. We can’t just always do one thing or always do another. That’s where I think it gets complicated. It would be easier if we could always do one thing or always another. Like always remaining silent or always speaking up. But we can’t. Sometimes we must keep silent but other times we must speak. I struggle with when to speak and when to be silent, and sometimes I feel that no matter which I did, I should have done the other.

The prophets and apostles didn’t always keep silent. They didn’t always say “nice” things. They exposed evil and called it what it was: evil. Even Jesus said some things that weren’t “nice”–such as when He said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8) Or when He said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt 23) At one point the disciples said to Jesus, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, so very sorry for offending you.” He spoke the truth and let it stand, let it do its work. 

So when do we keep silent and when do we speak up? The other day I came across an article called, Be Wise About Repentant Predators. The whole article is very good and worth reading, but I’d like to focus on this portion:

It is not gossip to expose predators. It’s telling the truth for the sake of preventing future victims. When they began harming others, they relegated their “right” to privacy.

And in terms of casting stones, yes, of course we examine ourselves. But what if our introspection means we don’t report very real predation? What if society operated that way? What if I knew that a person was a murderer and would most likely murder again? Would I refrain from reporting simply because I, too, struggle with sin? How ridiculous is that? My own sin struggle is a separate issue from being an agent of justice. My greater allegiance must be to the One who made us, who calls murder (and rape) wrong. My allegiance must be to protect the innocent.

I think this is helpful and Biblical. We must not be silent about wickedness. We must take a stand against the wicked, expose wickedness, and speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves:

Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked. (Prov 25:26)

Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph 5:11)

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Rescue those being led away to death;
    hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
    Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Prov 24:11-12)

It’s still not easy to know when to speak and when to be silent. It gets even more complicated because it’s not easy to discern the difference between 1. a compassionate person who is unaware that her words could be hurtful, such as when she doesn’t know what will trigger another person’s pain, 2. a deeply wounded person who lashes out in pain, or 3. a truly evil person who deliberately seeks to destroy others. Dr. George Simon says that since we can’t really perceive others’ motivation, we need to focus on addressing wrong behaviors. I studied an ancient book called “Ethics of the Fathers” with a Messianic Jewish scholar. “Ethics of the Fathers” teaches that 1. We should “judge everyone favorably”–in other words, give people the benefit of the doubt. For example, if a person who you know is always kind and honest one day says/does something unkind or which appears to be dishonest, don’t quickly assume he is an unkind or dishonest person. Consider that he might be stressed from having a very bad day or that you don’t know all the facts of a situation. However, “Ethics of the Fathers” also says “don’t associate with a bad neighbor.” In other words, if a person is consistently nasty or dishonest, that’s not due to merely having a bad day. That is his character; that is who he is. So don’t associate with him.  Dr. George Simon and “Ethics of the Fathers” helps me to be patient toward others, while not accepting bad behavior. Whether a person is merely unaware, or lashing out, or truly evil, we can still confront hurtful behavior.

I still struggle with when to speak and when to be silent–I know I get it wrong at times. However, I will not tolerate those who deliberately bully, insult, and/or abuse others, who unmake others by creating the false reality that they are unlovable, worthless, stupid, and useless. I will not protect abusive people with my silence. It is my goal to recover enough so others can’t force their false “reality” on me and to also help others recover.

Do you see how beautiful Hebrew is? One little word stirred up all these things.


One Comment on “Words and Things

  1. That was a long post … when you have the luxury of no outside chores, you can have the time to indulge in writing instead. The video of items under a microscope was very interesting. I follow a guy who likes macro photography … he does some amazing photos of bugs and plants up close that you would not recognize what they were.


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