In the news this week, we have heard much pontification over the power of words. Did the angry, fear-filled words of politicians reach into the deranged mind of the Arizona shooter to incite violence? Do the words of TV hosts and bloggers create, as Matt Bai writes in a New York Times editorial, “a culture of hyperbole ... [that has lost its] hold on the power of words.” I was reminded of Psalm 12 (especially striking here in the King James Version):
They speak vanity every one with his neighbor:
The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips,
who have said, With our tongue will we prevail;
For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
The words of the LORD are pure words:
I have never seen precious metals being refined, but I can picture the tiny, fragile flakes of silver that are held captive within their rocky frame, inseparable at first from the heavy dross that encases them. Only intense heat and mighty flame can transform the ore, melting it, changing its form completely, and allowing it to float freely to the surface. Just as the Word of the Lord, the Word that creates and gives life, passes through the crucible of the Cross, what then in me or in my words must be shattered and burned before it can be true?
Like the lips of the evil ones in the psalm, our lips are often so swollen with pride that our words, burdened with false authority, must burst loudly from the prison of our mouths. Or thin lips as cold and miserly as steel squeeze the warmth from our words, as they slide out like gray sleet. Or lips lost in the pleasant sensation of their own movement let airy, thoughtless words do flippant somersaults from ear to ear.
Instead, our testimony needs to float upwards through lives that have been tried in earth’s furnace, lives that have been burned and bruised in the fight against oppression and want. Theological and political discourse, without lives broken and refined in the service of justice and mercy, only grasp at a power that they can never truly own.