Election night speeches, in which candidates running for public office proclaim victory or concede defeat, always seem so surreal, particularly at the moment they mention their opponents. We hear words that are gracious and genteel, filled with kind regard, mutual admiration and sincere pledges to come together in unity.
It sounds diplomatic, but it rings hollow, especially considering how much mud was slung and dirt thrown at one another in the weeks previous — as in the recent election. Are memories so short that candidates have already forgotten the vicious personal attacks hurled in live debates, television ads and campaign flyers? Are their skins so thick that they felt none of the sting and bite of pernicious accusations and charges?
For most of us, even a single harsh or angry word can ruin a moment, linger for days and be remembered for years. But imagine facing a fusillade of verbal attacks every day for an entire campaign season. That has to take a toll even on the toughest of us.
So hearing candidates glibly and casually give their love-thy-enemy speeches on election night can only be described as surreal. It leaves us wondering how much of what they say is believable. Did they really mean all they said and promised during their campaigns? Will their word as elected officials be any good?
"People judge you by the words you use." This line from an old ad for vocabulary learning materials captures so succinctly the power of words. Indeed, we judge one another by words because they are usually the first way we come to know someone. But if those words are not soon consistent with the speaker's actions, or if they are not lived out as promised, we realize that these are words that can neither be trusted nor honored. It is cheap talk, devoid of meaning and up to no real good.
By contrast, when someone is true to their word and stands by it, we judge all subsequent words to be good. Here is a person whose word can be believed and trusted. It is a word of great value: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (Proverbs 25:11).
The Word of God is a good word because it is not an idle word left unanswered or unattended. It is a word that brings good results. In the Creation story, for example, we see that when God speaks, creation is the result. On the "first day" of creation, "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light." On the day that followed, "God said, 'Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters...' And it was so." And the same happens in each of the subsequent "days" (Genesis 1; italics added).
In the gospel of John, the result of God's Word is life: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:1, 14; italics added). What then follows is the story of Jesus offering the word of life, true life, eternal life.
But God intends for us to speak the good word, too. Like the prophet Jeremiah who found God's word in his mouth to speak the truth to nations and kingdoms (Jeremiah 1:9), we want to find words in our mouths that bring forth the goodness of God. Whether we are candidates for public office or Christians on God's mission, the words we speak should lead to, or be intended for, good results.
As we ponder the Word made flesh this Advent, we should also look ahead to the new year and consider well our words. They have power, the Epistle of James says, both to bless and curse (James 3:10). But if we will resolve to speak words that are Spirit-filled, trust-inspiring, hope-inducing, and life-giving, then we will find God's word in our mouths—a very good word indeed.
The Rev. Charles Buck is the UCC's Hawaii Conference Minister.