In an image-saturated world, words still matter. In our friendships, marriages, and churches, how we use and misuse words will set the path either for pain or for flourishing. In this series, writer Branson Parler urges us not to take our words lightly, because the way we use our words ultimately points to the Word who became matter, became flesh, and dwelt among us.
This Part 2 of a four-part series called Words Matter. Access the rest of the series here:
I hate picking out birthday or anniversary cards for my wife. Why? Because apparently, other husbands stink at actually stating their love for their wives. Now, I’m not trying to throw husbands in general under the bus here; I think this is a stereotype perpetuated in the halls of Hallmark. In any case, most cards from husbands to wives start out something like this:
“I know I don’t tell you as much as I should…”
“On this special day, I want to stop and actually tell you…”
“In our busy lives, I don’t tell you enough…”
By this point in the purchasing process, I’m cursing the greeting card industry for the lack of diversity in their card selection. Aren’t there any cards for non-guilt-ridden husbands out there?
To be clear, though, I’m under no illusions about my struggles to communicate my love for my wife. With four kids ages six and under, sometimes I get so focused on showing my love through a variety of actions—helping with dinner and dishes, changing dirty diapers, taking the kids to swimming lessons, cleaning up the house, and just plain surviving—that I forget to speak words of love and encouragement.
Without those words, though, I risk slipping into a pattern of just going through the motions. And how does my wife know my motivation for my actions as we work to maintain our household together? In other words, am I doing what I do just to survive? Or does it flow out of love for my wife and the life we’ve built together? It’s easy to slip into survival mode in my marriage and never come up for air, to stop and simply say, “I love you and appreciate you.” If I never tell her, in no uncertain terms, the reason for my actions—my love for her—it’s entirely plausible for her to wonder what my ultimate motivation is. Certainly, my words without actions to back them up would be futile, but it’s also true that actions without words are just as meaningless.
For me, this whole scenario makes me think about the Bible. Now, I believe God does things every day that sustain and support my life. He provides the basics of food, shelter, and clothing, gives me the strength to do my job and support my family, and gives me the grace to stand back up when I stumble and fall and fail again. I experience these realities each day.
But God doesn’t just leave it up to me to interpret his actions, whether in my own life or human history. God actually speaks to help us understand who he is and why he does what he does. And spoiler alert: it’s out of great love for us. Without the Bible, I think I could raise real questions about God’s motivations. Did God create us and the whole universe simply out of the desire to exert power and rule over us puny creatures? Why does God allow suffering and evil to continue? Is there something good coming in this for us or are we just trying to hang on as God works out the kinks in his creation? Is God just going through the motions—in survival mode or perhaps even regretting the whole idea of bringing us into existence?
These are valid questions. But there’s a reason we don’t need regretful-husband cards from God: God has spoken, repeatedly, in such a way that we need not wonder about his motivations or reasons why he does what he does. In the Bible, we have the words we need to interpret and understand God’s actions. Now, does this mean we’ll ever fully understand and comprehend everything about God? No. But that’s not surprising; I don’t expect I’ll ever fully understand and comprehend everything about my wife! Deep and mysterious as she is, I don’t think she’ll mind me saying that she’s not even close to God on this one.
But even though the Bible doesn’t tell me everything I might want to know, it is sufficient. That is, it gives me everything I need to really and truly know the heart of God. And that heart, ultimately, is Jesus. Although God speaks in a variety of ways in the Bible, all those ways point to the final word, Jesus, who did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.
What further love letter do we need? Jesus says it all.