“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Prov. 18:21
Words mean something.
Words are powerful.
Used well, they can be fountains of life.
Used poorly, they can be the smallest murder weapons.
Sometimes, the most accurate murder weapons of all.
This realization was driven home to me in a unique way recently.
A few weeks ago, I was searching for some variety in my reading repertoire. Having grown somewhat fatigued with my usual selection, I wandered to the antique bookshelf that houses my grandfather’s collection of classic works: Shakespeare, Stevenson, Poe, Tolstoy.
Brushing the dust off the worn, century-old burgundy covers, I somewhat hesitatingly pulled out the collection of poems by Oscar Wilde. I’m not usually a fan of poetry, and wasn’t expecting to find much interesting in the curled, yellowing, aged pages.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Oscar Wilde grabbed me from the start with his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
If you have some spare time (and some patience), you can read the masterpiece in its entirety here: The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
The poem itself is not a pleasant read.
It is disconcerting.
It is descriptive.
It makes you think about things you’d rather not.
Maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
Maybe we need more poems like The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
The poem follows a man who has murdered his lover. He is in jail (gaol, in British English) and is awaiting – and eventually undergoes – execution.
In this context the poet, acting as observer of the condemned, imprisoned man’s final days, makes an acutely astute and starkly convicting observation:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.
The startling reality Wilde poetically emphasizes is just this:
All men are murderers.
But, at times, just as poignantly.
So agrees Solomon, as quoted above:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Prov. 18:21a (NKJV)
The words we say, friends, have the power to give life or to take it.
Through our words, we can be life-givers….or life-takers.
Even for those we love most.
It begs the question:
Which am I?
Which are you?
It is a hard question.
A heart breaking question.
And that is a good thing.
Oscar Wilde explains:
Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?
You see, woeful realization oftentimes leads to wholehearted repentance.
And that is the ultimate goal, for repentance leads to salvation and deliverance…not from the Reading Gaol, but from our own personal jails – the chains of sin, guilt, and despair.
God is a God who loves to give second chances…
Our shortcomings, disastrous and painful as they can be, also have potential to become doors to allow the Lord Christ to enter in.
And what joy there is when He does!