Updated: Jul 11
“Abuse of Words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery, of party, of faction, and division of society.”
Of all my favorite nonsense that has proclaimed itself from the mouths of the Bright New Atheists, the pinnacle would have to be Richard Dawkins' words about the fabric of the universe:
"What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a 'spark of life.' It is information, words, instructions... If you want to understand life, don't think about vibrant, throbbing gels and oozes, think about information technology" [emphasis added].
He himself here proclaims that the ultimate core of matter and energy (so far as we understand) is "information, words, instructions." Myself, I have something of a quiet passion for Particle Physics, and studied M-Theory in college for a couple of years.
Dawkins, in one of his many attempts to undermine principles of religious faith, here confirms one of our most basic beliefs, if often unexamined: Language is not only the foundation of ideas and (I would argue), all areas of human enterprise, but the foundation of Creation itself. The Lord spoke the universe into existence, and this makes sense. Words shape order out of chaos. When the Spirit of God moved above the face of the waters in Genesis 1 ("waters" as a common symbol of chaos, unknown, and disorder), He shapes that chaos through the power of His Word. Jesus is referred to by John as the Logos of God. Logos, from which we derive "logic," simply means speech, the defining distinction between the spirit of man and the spirit of animals—the ability to commune with our God. Our words have power.
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof."
Our words affect our world. When we speak blessings or curses over people (and that can be an entire topic all its own that we'll examine soon), those things have not only effect, but they are things for which we are accountable.
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.”
Now, this simple truth can be distorted, like any other, into constructs like the Power of Attraction, or Name-It-And-Claim-It theology, both of which are unbiblical and have occult roots, but it is nevertheless true that our words are so crucial to our worship, our witness, and our walk, yet are generally regarded as subjective and irrelevant. One of the most striking aspects of this has been the decline of vocabularies in America, and not simply in the Why Johnny Can't Read problems of contemporary education. I mean this more culturally, how moral terminology has decreased in both usage and proper comprehension.
How often do we use words like Honor, Noblity, Chastity, Temperance, Virtue, Courage, Prudence, Purity, or even Duty outside the context of either irony or fantasy novels? They have fallen out of the lexicon, and so ought to be reclaimed. All are words important to our Maker, as are the things they represent. We could spend a lot of time exploring why these words are out of vogue, but read Alistair MacIntyre's After Virtue for more of that. I want to focus herein on the need to reclaim. Christians have conceded far too much ground to the enemy in recent generations (and to be clear, an inch of ground is too much). I was once someone who often said that "this isn't the hill I'm going to die on," but as that phrase was returned to me frequently over the past three years, my response eventually became "can you tell me what hill you will die on?" In war—and yes, we are at war—you don't die on the last hill; you die on the first.
For today, simply look at the word "Duty," and pause for all the twelve-year-old boys to stop giggling. It has become a term synonymous with the forced conformity to societal requirements, rather than the noble honor of God's design.
The common attitude around the word might as well stem right out of Supertramp's "Logical Song:"
When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful
A miracle, oh, it was beautiful, magical
And all the birds in the trees, well, they'd be singing so happily
Oh, joyfully, oh, playfully watching me
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible
Logical, oh, responsible, practical
And then they showed me a world where I could be so dependable
Oh, clinical, oh, intellectual, cynical
A generation was trained to conflate the mechanistic and often pointlessness of modernity (the simulacra or trappings of contemporary adulthood) with the actual values (the virtues of godly adulthood), and so out went the baby with the bathwater. Some years ago, the word “duty” shifted its connotation to become something horrendous, a term meant for nothing else but justification by parents to force their children to become something they never wanted to be. But Duty is, among other things, the honorable acceptance of the charge we are given under God's auspices, charge over Creation, over spouse and children and church and community and conduct.
The father of the possessed child in Luke 9 could have sat in his prayer closet—which we all ought to do—and maybe even heard that Jesus had come in the flesh, and he could have remained where he was. Maybe his wife asked him, begged him to take the boy to Jesus, and he could’ve said, “it’s in God’s hands,” and left it at that. He didn’t. He also didn’t take it into his own. He fulfilled his duty towards his son in faith that his Father in heaven would make it a mighty thing, an act of loaves and fish. We act and move in accordance with His ordination and His design but we do so in the fullness of knowledge that all things remain under His Sovereignty alone. The sin comes not from performing a duty but from doing so for the exultation of ourselves and not our God.
The mark of a Christian cobbler is not one who puts crosses on his shoes but one who makes better shoes than anyone else because he performs the work of his hands with all of his might in the name of his Lord.
That boy who brought the loaves and fish could have said that Jesus could feed everyone and it wasn’t his responsibility to bring any food.
Fulfillment of divinely ordained duty is not a meritorious work—it isn’t about our greatness or faithfulness but about our willingness to not simply exist in a state of faith but move with it as our foundation. God gave to Adam charge over all creation, a charge that would become a heritage for all men, and He gave him charge to watch over Eve, which would become a heritage of all husbands and fathers towards their wives and daughters. He gave charge of Truth into the hands of Prophets, and into ceremonial law into the hands of the Levites and on and on it goes. Now, He was expanding the charge of the Believer to include the world itself—the unsaved, be they Jew or Gentile.
Husbands are to protect and provide, and to treat their wives and children tenderly whether or not they deserve it (and they don’t always). He is to obey Christ’s headship regardless of times when he thinks he knows better (and yes, we often think that). Wives are to honor and submit to their husbands, regardless of whether or not their husbands deserve it (and we often don’t). Children are to obey their parents in the Lord, again, regardless of whether or not they deserve it, and all this because this is right be ordinance of the One who made heaven and earth and husbands and wives and children.
What an honor we have been given, to be handed charge of portions of His creation, to be invited into His army, and of course, to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! Duty should illicit within us a humble reverence and sense of honor in the extreme.
"The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build."
Daniel Athas Holly | Axis Apologetics
PO Box 91, Whitewater, WI 53190