Words matter! Words literally created the universe and our world. Five hundred years ago words launched the momentous religious revolution called the Protestant Reformation, when a stubborn but brilliant thinker named Martin Luther posted his 95 theses of complaints against the Roman Catholic Church.
Words matter in our world, where an epidemic of harsh rhetoric all around challenges and exposes the fallacy that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Today, as we continue to long for and pray for reformation and revival in our denomination, careless words can undo rather than strengthen our unity in the community of faith.
The end result of violent words in a speech-poor world may be described in the timeless confession of Daniel: “We have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your [God’s] commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land” (Dan. 9:5, 6). Their disobedience and rebellion brought them in the end to the banks of Babylon's rivers. And there they report:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:1-4).
The words “by the rivers of Babylon we sat” paint a vivid portrait of disillusionment in people who once enjoyed divine blessings (Deut. 30:19, 20). When they chose life, they settled in the Promised Land. But decades of disobedience found them far from their beloved homeland. What did they do? They sat down!
They fell into a pit of doubt and darkness, shocked, numbed, and immobile, as if taken by surprise. Psalm 1 details the slow spiral into spiritual disaster. First we neglect the assembly of the righteous, then walk in the counsel of the wicked, and stand in the path of sinners when we should be worshipping God and serving Him only. Exiles in Babylon, when overcome by their circumstances, threw up their hands and sat down, forgetting that God was with them, even in captivity (Isa. 43:1-7).
As God's people today, we are faced with a similar situation as discouraged twenty-first-century captives. Many of God’s people have simply given up and sat down! Sitting down rather than singing Zion's song against prejudice and the denial of civil rights. Sitting down instead of singing Zion's song for temperate living even asU. S. surgeons general announce war against promiscuity and cigarettes to change public attitudes about AIDS and smoking. We have divine insights that can make a difference in the battle. We cannot afford to stay seated and silent.
Thank God, He is still with us. As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of our Protestant heritage, we must rise up and prosecute the reformation the Spirit wills to inspire among our own.
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.