13 August 2009

"Sticks & stones may break my bones,
but names will never hurt me," is a lie.

Words Hurt

Click here for today's Bible reading: Job 25-28; Proverbs 14:12-24.

The trouble with people who say stupid things is that they seldom realize they have said anything dumb. This means that I too have surely said my share of stupid things, perhaps even hurtful things, and that I am going on with my life oblivious to the hurt and anger I’ve left in my wake. I feel bad about this and wish that ignorance didn’t accompany stupidity because if I knew who my victims were I would go back and apologize and ask them to please not blame God for my wrong-headedness.

People who say stupid things often mean well. (I am trying to give others the benefit of the doubt that I want to claim for myself.) Perhaps they are simply trying to reconcile their beliefs with their observations. When you desperately want to believe in a loving God, you see only two obvious options to explain suffering: either you have to close your eyes to all the suffering or you have to come up with an explanation that gets God off the hook for allowing (or causing) so many bad things to happen.

But sometimes people cross a line (granted, it’s my line, not God’s) and speak as if they are an oracle from God to explain the reason for someone else’s devastating circumstances. Usually they are trying to provide comfort. Nearly always they do the opposite.

Which brings me to a story that I heard this week.

A child is born with a serious disability. The parents are devastated. And some stranger tells them that God did this to make them better Christians. Ouch! What kind of theology is this? And on what basis does anyone dare to claim that he or she knows the reason for someone else’s suffering?

Again, trying to give the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the comment was an attempt to defend God—to excuse his bad behavior by claiming that good will come out of it. But does God really need this kind of defense? I think not.

So here’s my question: “Why does God give everyone so much freedom of speech?” I mean, he has, on occasion, made people speechless (e.g., Zechariah, Luke 1:20). Why doesn’t he use this technique more often? I can think of many times when a little imposed silence would have served him well.

For the most part, however, God lets people blab. Even more surprising, he has published some of the outrageous comments made by people who are speaking lies about him. Surely he doesn’t condone lying. Yet God has demonstrated amazing patience when it comes to people who tell lies about him.

That seems to be what’s going on in the book of Job, which I “just happened” to be reading when I heard this story.

When really bad things start happening to Job, the only way his friends can explain them and still maintain their belief in God’s fairness is to conclude that Job deserves punishment. They have not seen Job sin, so they believe he must be hiding it. Their belief system has no place for a God who allows an innocent person to suffer.

Their faulty theology led to two faulty assumptions: First, that God was causing Job’s suffering. Second, that Job deserved what was happening to him.

For me to criticize them for their wrong thinking would be unfair. The only reason I know they’re wrong is because God has revealed a lot more about himself in subsequent centuries. In fact, God used their faulty arguments and false allegations as an opportunity for further revelation. Their mistaken beliefs provided the backdrop for God’s startling soliloquy at the end of the book.

So perhaps I have answered my own question. Why does God allow us to speak so freely? Because our speaking reveals what we believe (Matthew 15:18), and by airing our erroneous arguments, we give God an opportunity to correct our faulty thinking.

But God’s ability to use our stupid comments does not mean that we should continue to carelessly provide him with opportunities. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2).

Heavenly Father, may I not compound my stupidity with arrogance by assuming that only other people say stupid things. Please seal my lips and keep hurtful words from escaping. When they manage to sneak out, make me immediately aware of them so that I can quickly repent and ask forgiveness.

Have you ever been hurt by someone’s unkind, unthinking, ignorant, or insensitive comment about God’s role in your circumstances? How did you process it? Did it make you angry at God? Do you think the world would be better or worse if God didn’t allow us to say stupid, hurtful things? In what way?

“Where then does wisdom come from?
 Where does understanding dwell?
It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing,
 concealed even from the birds of the air.
Destruction and Death say,
 ‘Only a rumor of it has reached our ears.’
God understands the way to it
 and he alone knows where it dwells,
for he views the ends of the earth
 and sees everything under the heavens . . .
And he said to man,
 ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
 and to shun evil is understanding.’ ” —Job 28:20-24, 28

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'” —Jesus (Matthew 15:18)

Click here to see the complete one-year schedule.

No comments: