"...I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
--Jesus, in Matthew 12:36-37
"Every careless word"--really? Lord, you're going to hold us accountable for every careless word we utter? Oh, my...
Watching the presidential debates and listening to words that slander and mislead, it's easy to point fingers. And, sadly, I do. Then, as I remembered Jesus's words above, I took a self-inventory...and I realized that in this election season my speech hasn't been terribly honorable either, particularly as I've vented my deep disapproval of one of the nominees and their policies. The thought that my words--in response to their words--might someday be played back for me by the Lord gave me pause. I realized afresh that Jesus loves both our presidential nominees--amazing! They are beloved in his sight--incredible! He's given them life and he's died to give them eternal life--astounding! In response, I need to watch my words--to make sure that they don't demean or destroy.
Human speech is a powerful and treasured gift. In the biblical tradition, our words are meant to build up, not tear down. The apostle Paul writes: "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). Grace!
But this call to speak grace doesn't obviate the need to speak truth. I like the way John in the prologue of his gospel, describes the ultimate Word, Jesus Christ: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."
Grace and truth. This is what Jesus models in his life and ministry, in his speech and his deeds. He is the Word of truth who accurately describes reality. We who follow him must also speak truth: in this season, about moral and ethical character, about suitability for office, about factual accuracy. But we must speak truth with grace, just as Jesus did: keeping in view God's kindness, mercy, and love for all people, even the nominee we can't support. What a hard balance to strike, particularly in this election season. Lord, have mercy!