The Weight of Words

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May 6, 2018 by bradcharlesbeals

I have five sons. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words I use with them. And I find myself terrified.

We are image bearers. We are made in the image of God. We can say “I am” because God is the great I am, we know right and wrong because God is holy and just, and we create with our words because God spoke the creation into being.

It’s this last image-bearing characteristic – our own creative power in the words we use – that I’ve been thinking about. You see, I’ve never thought of the fact that my words, unlike other activities of “creation”, create something beyond the words themselves

By create, I’m not referring to the creative label that we tend to use for anyone with an aesthetic skill (if you design your own greeting cards or write poetry that rhymes or arrange flowers or doodle anime characters, someone is bound to call you creative); Rather, I mean creative as in creating something new that was not there before and that exists now separately from the medium itself.

If I paint a landscape, the paint on the canvas is merely a depiction of something that already exists. I might present it through my own interpretation, but it is still only a depiction. If I make a clay bowl, I have only rearranged materials for a purpose. Nothing new exists except that one iteration of the idea of bowl. Even a novel or a film can only create something new in the imagination. For all of George Lucas’s output, nothing real has been created. Not in any galaxy however far away, not in any time period however long ago. 

But my words – like the words of God, but in a reflected way only – can actually create something new. 

The act of a father speaking to a son is a creative act. If I call my son a fool, if I call him a fool over and over and over, I am creating a fool. We could describe the same thing as destructive in that I’m working against wisdom, but that fails to get at the idea that we are image bearers in our use of language. 

It’s plausible that the golden calf that the Israelites created was, in an earthly and aesthetic sense, something beautiful. They made it and were probably proud of it, but what they made and were proud of was utterly destructive.

We create in the same way with our words.

As image bearers, we bring a creative force to bear on the world whenever we speak. We can create something good – “You are a wise son, in whom I am well pleased.” We can create something bad: “You are a fool.” But the truth is our words create whether we want them to or not.

And that’s what terrifies me.

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