Perhaps there’s no other area in life where it’s harder to keep the faith than controlling what comes out of our mouths.
Why? In part, because we’re prone to speak, then think. In part, because what we say so quickly reveals the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. In part, because words can have such devastating, damaging, long-lasting effects on others.
True, some of us talk more than others, but all of us—all of us—say things we shouldn’t.
Interestingly, Scripture isn’t focused on not saying curse words. In high school and college I never got into the habit of using profanity. But swear words aren’t the only words that should make us wince.
In fact, as Jars of Clay reminds us, some so-called profanity can be genuine, heartfelt prayers like the phrase “Oh, my God!” in a sudden emergency.
Furthermore, some curse words like “hell” or “damned” can be sober facts we say with tears in our eyes and the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts.
Then again, some swear words are simple facts of life. I was reminded of this while watching a PBS documentary with my son Benjamin. I used it as an opportunity to teach him that one offensive swear word is used by non-Christians when they realize they need God, remember they turned their backs on him in their youth, and now are facing certain death.
The PBS documentary was a made-for-TV movie called Touching the Void, which tells the true story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, two British mountaineers who embarked on a daring and reckless attempt to climb the previously unconquered western face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes mountains. After successfully reaching the 20,800-foot summit, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates felt like they were on top of the world. But shortly after starting their descent, Joe broke his leg. Rescue was absolutely impossible. Despite Simon’s best efforts, risking his own life, Joe falls hundreds of feet to his demise.
Somehow, however, Joe later wakes up alive inside the belly of a massive glacial crevasse. He’s barely alive, freezing cold, dangling on the edge of another deep crevasse, his leg now severely mangled. He’s without food or water, utterly trapped, looking up 75 feet at the ice roof he broke through during his fall, realizing Simon thinks he’s dead. In other words, in two or three days Joe will be dead. No question.
In that context, Joe yells a particular swear word at the top of his lungs over and over as he beat his hands against the crevasse wall that’s entombed him. Of course, I told Benjamin ahead of time what our family’s standards are about never saying that word. We wince at such language, but I believe God heard Joe admit the bankruptcy of his atheistic worldview. God not only heard it, but miraculously saved him.
Which God did that? The cosmic killjoy God? The angry, judgmental God? No. Instead, it was the God who doesn’t want any to perish, but all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), no matter how colorful or limited someone’s vocabulary is.Still, the fact is 99.9% of all swearing is unnecessary. But if someone happens to swear in my presence, I’m not easily offended.