Taking Language Itself In Vain

I am even more convinced of my own need for consistent silence and solitude after reading this penetrating insight from Harold Best:

Mass culture is… marked by the demise of a reverence for words and for their careful placement within an idea and its articulation … Everything that rises above a mere scratch on the experiential surface – everything from a pizza to an orgasm to God – is awesome, incredible, unique, spectacular, excellent, great. No words are left to express magnificence without resorting to the same words with which we have described the commonplace. On the other end of the spectrum, virtually everything from striking out in a Little League game to not getting into Yale is the pits, a bummer, horrible, it sucks, I went through hell yesterday. These verbal toss-aways are pimpled with as many “O my Gods” as can be worked into the rest of the words.

… [This degradation of language] is a form of profanity that goes beyond our everyday definitions of it. It is taking language itself in vain, which is second only to taking the Lord’s name in vain. Empty speech is vain repetition; exaggerated speech is vain repetition; imprecise and sloppy speech is vain repetition. The words that God emptied his truth into are also my daily words for daily affairs. Do I value them so intently that his Word is not robbed of its richness because of my tawdry appropriation and vain use of words?

– from Unceasing Worship, 192-193


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  1. Have really appreciated Eugene Peterson on this count. He has widened my vocabulary, and talks about ministers as those who people look to for the right words. Our use of language can make us somehow less human than God’s creative hand intended with all the diversity of Gen. 1-2.

  2. I get criticized by folks a lot by using simple language. Calling a movie OK instead of great or even good somehow means I didn’t like it. Same with dinner. I never really understood why that would bother people until reading this. Just as well I didn’t understand the damage I did to language as well by over using words.

    Thanks Bob.

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