Words are copious in every person’s life. In their simplest use they convey the thoughts and ideas of one person to another. They are typically the first, though not the only, method people think of when we hear the word “communication.” And we see, hear and use them every day. We depend on them and are affected by them, sometimes deeply and for the rest of our lives.
Why, then, do we add to our words so many insults?
Countless times in my life I have found myself condemning people with injurious words. Many of these people I call my friends, yet I often run a knife over the rope of our friendship with insults. “You idiot, don’t you understand?” is a phrase that I say commonly, and I regret every time I say it.
I also have been the recipient of such demeaning titles. Every time I hear them, I feel a sting inside me. Even when they are said as a joke, even when I am confident that the tone of the person aiming these arrows claims they are only made of thin foam, they still sting from the blow. And when they have been said in sincerity, I feel the acute sting of a wound that has opened inside of me, and I know I am powerless to tend to it.
These words are common, yet they are a poison. We have a variety of reasons for using them, but insults are always superfluous to our remarks.
My primary reason for insulting a person is as a last attempt to make him understand some case I have made. At this point I have grown frustrated and weary of providing explanations or evidence to the person listening. In a final endeavor to open their mind’s eye, I call that person something which they most likely are not. A mere misunderstanding or disagreement does not make someone an “idiot”; an inability to learn a skill or concept does not make someone “stupid”; and foolish decisions, no matter how consistently someone chooses them, do not make someone “a lost cause.”
Every person has deep, meaningful and immeasurable value. Nothing will change this. We are all made in the image of God and blessed by him (Genesis 1:26-28).
Furthermore, there is always hope for each person. Even if we do not believe it, even when they (or we) seem to make our lives worse and worse with the passage of time, the hope remains. God loves us, the people he has made, and he will not leave us on our own to live worthless lives when we call on him (John 3:16-17; Acts 4:11-12). After we begin to follow Jesus we will grow as children of God as long as we continue to follow him and the Holy Spirit living in us (1 John 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:5-7). And everyone who trusts in the Lord God and in his Son who saved us by his life, death and resurrection, is part of the body of Christ (John 14:6; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
Where is the need for insults in such a hope and in such unity?
Each of us struggle with various failures, endeavors and situations. Each of us fall short at times when we try to act wisely. Each of us act with malice toward other people at times. And each of us boast vainly, haughtily, in ourselves and our efforts when we accomplish something we deem significant.
Yet each of us also has helped another person. Each of us also care for someone else. Each of us also often try to make the best decision for our loved ones. And each of us also live each day trying to make the most of our lives.
We shouldn’t place obstacles in the paths of other people by how we use our words. We should build bridges for them.
Instead of seeing moments in other people’s lives which frustrate us as isolated moments, we should see them as tiny parts in their much-bigger lives.
That is the case with me when I fail. My failures don’t define me: my God gives me my identity, and that is as a loved son and member of his body. It is the same for you, brother, and you, sister.
No matter what you have been called in mockery by other people, you are loved by the God who made you and remains with you. When God calls you to join him in his mission to restore the world to shalom, he will show his might and glory, which no words can nullify, in your life as long as you follow him.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-30)