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The Heavy Weight of Words

 I was reading Life of the Beloved by Henri J.M. Nouwen recently, and in a chapter titled "Living as the Beloved," he wrote these lines, which I thought about for days afterwards, and am still pondering:
"The forces of darkness are the forces that split, divide and set in opposition. The forces of light unite. Literally, the word 'diabolic' means dividing. The demon divides; the Spirit unites."

I was telling a friend about this over lunch one day this week, someone who is also a lover of words. We sat in the front window of a cafe, overlooking the main street of a town decorated for Christmas, and I pulled out my e-reader to look up the gospel of John, chapter 17, verses 20-23 , the prayer of Jesus, which suddenly hit me as the antithesis of "diabolic" in the way it focuses on "being one."

Yesterday, curious to learn more, I looked up the word "diabolic" for myself and found this, under the heading "etymology of devil." 

Origin of devil
The word devil comes from the Latin diabolus (devil)...from the verb diaballo (to insinuate things (against sb), put in a bad light, slander, calumniate...

 Isn't this fascinating, when thinking of the devil's first mention, in the book of Genesis, chapter 3? The definition of his name is personified by the record of this creature's words, which cast doubt and insinuated bad intent from the start.

Another of his titles is Father of Lies. His agenda seems often to make use of words to divide, accuse and cause disunity. Yet Jesus is The Word, and his name is Faithful and True.

This is why one of the seven things that are detestable to God, listed in Proverbs 6:16-19, is "a person who stirs up conflict in the community."

Being reminded of the great gift that words are, and how seriously God takes the way in which they are used, sensitizes me in a good way to guard my heart first and foremost; because it is where our words flow from; and then my words.

Years ago I memorized some really good verses from Ephesians. They came to mind again as I thought about all of this. I know I benefit from remembering them, may it be so for others:
Ephesians 4:29-31
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others upaccording to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.


Michael Birch said…
Interesting ... How do you reconcile the apparent contradiction between the passage you quote in John 17 which teaches peace and unity, and Luke 12:49-53 where Christ teaches that he comes to divide?

"“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." [John 17:20-23]

"“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” [Luke 12:49-53]
Leslie said…
Good thoughts, Belinda, on being careful with our words. And Michael, this is an overly simplistic answer, but I think if you consider John 17 is addressed to believers and Luke 12 has the idea of the gospel dividing (those who accept and those who reject it)it is not at all contradictory. People find the gospel offensive- we don't need to be offensive in the way we proclaim it.
Anonymous said…
We are to bring light, not heat.

I remember hearing that if we are feeling condemned, it is of Satan. God doesn't condemn us. He may confront us, but He never condemn.

What a great study.
Belinda Burston said…
Thanks Friends, for plunging into the conversation with your responses. Something Frances Frangipane wrote has stuck in my mind for years, and that is (my paraphrase) that whenever we open our mouths we have a choice as to whether we engage in the ministry of the devil or of God. The devil's ministry is division, criticism and those things mentioned in scripture such as backbiting, malice, slander and gossip, whereas the ministry of Jesus is intercession. As humans we can land in either camp in any given conversation. Henri Nouwen's words really illuminated more greatly for me, the intrinsic character of the enemy and reminded me to guard my spirit, heart and words.

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