Be careful little tongue what you say
For the Father up above is looking down in love
So be careful little tongue what you say.
I remember singing that chorus in Sunday school. It was an effective little ditty. I can recall walking home from the corps building when I was a child, with my head tilted towards the sky, wondering where this ethereal parent was that was so concerned about what I was saying. It didn’t matter where he was, though. My childhood educators had drilled it into me that he was there … watching me. And he didn’t want anything coming from my mouth that was harmful, whether to me or to others. We were taught that the tongue had the power to both hurt and heal and that we ought to always choose the latter for its use.
Songs and choruses are an effective way to reinforce biblical truths in the minds of Christians. The Apostle James also tells us that, “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it” (James 3:5-6 The Message).
While most adult Christians have left behind the childishness of cursing and hurling insults, perhaps there is another level of “tongue-watching” that the Father would lovingly have us consider. Do we use our words carelessly? Do we sometimes say things unintentionally that cause our other efforts and good works to go up in smoke?
This is a question that came to mind as I was watching CNN one evening in July. Anderson Cooper was covering the atrocious shooting massacre that occurred in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre. On this occasion, CNN was interviewing a young man who survived the attack. The survivor was a Christian who wanted the television audience to know that he forgave his attacker. He said that as he prayed to God in that theatre he felt a cloud of evil depart and his life was spared. Then he made this statement: “There is no doubt in my mind that God saved me. I believe that he saved me out of that theatre so that I can just show the world that there is light.”
I certainly do not want to judge this young man, especially after the trauma he has gone through. Undoubtedly he was experiencing so many different emotions that he could have been expected to say almost anything. And I do not want to argue that he is mistaken, as who can say unequivocally what God was doing in that moment?
But therein lies my point. Most of the time, Christians are fairly conservative in their statements about God and his activity in the world. We limit our proclamations to the indisputable truths that the church throughout history has collectively gleaned from the Scriptures, such as God’s undeniable love for humanity and his incontestable plan of redemption for our lives. We’re good at sticking to the script. So much so that we regularly produce the “Seven Steps to …” this or the “ABCs of …” that. But in times when we want comfort or to provide solace to others, we are prone to start doing doctrinal improvisation.
Did God really save this man because he prayed? Did God spare him because he had a special plan for his life? While I listened, I couldn’t answer “yes” or “no.” All I could think about was the millions of people listening to this interview who were wondering why God didn’t save the others. I can only imagine what the family of the six-year-old girl who didn’t survive thought of his logic. But we tend to do this as Christians. When someone close to us loses a loved one needlessly or tragically, we often try to comfort them by declaring that God needed that individual more than we did or that he required another angel in heaven (which is not only careless, but theologically flawed).
Perhaps we need to be careful what our little tongues say. We are ambassadors of Christ. It doesn’t help the cause if we attribute things to God that we aren’t sure about. It is even worse when what we say makes the picture of God a little fuzzier rather than a little clearer. James was right. Our tongues can sure create a lot of smoke. When in doubt, let’s stick to the script.
Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Victoria’s Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.