From time to time I come across an article, speech or writing which just has to be shared. Not necessarily reported on or disected, just shared. This is one such article which is filed under the Verbatim section.
Words are powerful things. They are more than just sounds used for communication; birds, whales and insects also communicate by sound. Words, human words, however, are more than just the sounds they are made of, and they can be used for much more than just mere ‘data transfer’; they are used to express the deepest of emotion, forge unbreakable bonds and to bring forth art. Words sometimes give men wings, or become the chains around their feet. They are used to bless and to curse, to proclaim life and death, to make free and condemn, to laugh and to cry. Words, therefore, have a certain amount of weight attached to them (in my mind at least). I concede: it is true that not all words are weighty, nor is the weight of different weighty words necessarily equal; but this does not change the fact that words can have a lot of weight attached to them.
It is not difficult to demonstrate this. The world is riddled with tales of people’s lives who have been changed by the words of others, or put another way, by words that these people accorded a certain weight to. I think of somebody as famous as Nelson Mandela who was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, or somebody like me and you who were influenced by people ranging from parents to friends to teachers and lecturers. Some are influenced by sport heroes, others by famous heads of state, and others by the leading thinkers of their time. On the other side of the coin though, the world is also riddled with people who have not been influenced by words spoken, but rather by words left unspoken. I think of children who had no role models or parents or grandparents to speak simple things like “Well done” or “I love you” over them, and who grow up confused and unguided; there will be other examples also. The point I am trying to make is that the weight of words should not be underestimated, as words (or the lack of words) have long-lasting influences on people’s lives.
And yet: just as the weight of words shouldn’t be underestimated, it should also not be overestimated. Words alone cannot fix the world. Even though words are powerful, they were never meant to operate alone. Words need backup for their full weight to be manifested. The conflict in the DRC will not be solved by only speaking; yes, people need to speak to one another, but they have to do more than that. Extreme poverty cannot be talked away; practical and logical steps need to be taken to translate the words into actions. This, to me, as a crucial point: for words to carry any weight, they need to be supported by actions.
As a Christian, I have been taught about this relationship between words and actions since I can remember. “Do not lie” (Colossians 3:9; Exodus 20:16); translates into “Do not say one thing and do another thing” or “Do not say you did something, while you actually did something else” or “Do not say somebody else did something that they did not do” or “Do not say that you will do something, and then do something else or not do anything at all”. It basically boils down to what we commonly refer to as ‘lies’ and ‘broken promises’, which are two of the most destructive forces the world has ever known.
Why, though? Why are lies and broken promises so destructive? How do these two things manage to come between countries or teams or friends or spouses, to cut an unbridgeable rift valley between them? I believe it comes from the abuse of words, or more specifically, of not realising or honouring the fact that words and actions are inseparable. James speaks of this in James 2:14-18 where he says that one cannot only say that you believe if it is not backed up by your actions; you cannot say to somebody ‘be blessed’, but not be willing to be the one through whom they are blessed. One cannot say that you love somebody, but you live as if they are just a casual acquaintance. You cannot profess to be a friend if you are not willing to put the friend’s needs above your own. Words then, or that which you confess, need to be DONE before they can carry any weight.
I think of it in the following way: words and actions are the individual threads of a double-stranded piece of string. For ‘words’ to have any weight its strand needs to stay close to that of ‘actions’; they need to be intricately intertwined. As soon as the two strands start separating, when what a person says and what he does starts to move away from each other, their words start to lose weight. Apply this to everyday life: a public figure might start with a clean record, good reputation and also possess the competence to do whatever he or she does. While that person’s words and actions stay intertwined, their words carry weight; as soon as his string unravels, their words start to carry less weight and they lose credibility.
Now I apply this principle to myself. The distance between the separate strands of words and actions in my piece of string are an indication of how ‘well it is with my soul’; of how good I feel about life and how close I feel to God. When my words and actions stay intertwined, all is well. When some separation between the strands starts forming, life starts to drift, purpose starts to grow dim and the separation between words and actions signify the separation I feel from God. It has taken some time, but I have learnt to recognize any disconnection between words and actions in my life as a danger sign, and as soon as it is identified I try to close that gap. For when this string unravels too far, a point will be reached where my words will no longer carry any weight. Then words will become nothing more than just mere sounds; insignificant and ordinary, forming part of the background noise. And then I, as the maker of these words, will become a ‘clanging cymbal’, or ‘salt which has lost its flavour’, making a senseless noise in a confused world; useless as a witness of the Good News.
I dread such a day.
I post a photo I took at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK. It is an excerpt from a poem called ‘Yamda’s sorrow’, and the following phrase which also refers to the gap between words and actions, will probably haunt me for years to come: “Mock your Saviour’s name no further”.
When the string has unraveled too far.
Serv. via Neill Goosen