The scene is apocalyptic. Intensely burning flames consuming everything in their path and shooting bright-colored embers far into the sky. In their wake, nothing but the charred remains of dead trees standing here and there over the blackened and scorched earth. Some Biblical imagery from the book of James adds yet another dimension to the picture: the tongue is a consuming fire.
See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. James 3:5-6
The past several years have seen a record number of wildfires consuming once-pristine land throughout the western United States. How ironic that we are also seeing our beautiful nation consumed by a war of words.
The rhetoric (from both right and left) has become so heated that we are destroying precious social resources that were to be inherited by our nation’s children. Instead, they are being left with a charred landscape that is both dead and scorched, devoid of the love and meaning that should characterize our communities. We can profess the moral high road, but according to James, if the tongue is a consuming fire, we are instruments of hell and not of truth. Ouch!
We can say what we want about the words and actions of other people, but I am reminded of a saying by Smokey the Bear that I learned many years ago: “Only you can prevent forest fires!”
As small as the tongue is, it can do an incredible amount of damage, but the destruction originates in the heart and simply flows out of the tongue. If we want to douse the fires that are destroying our nation, we must both stop new fires and remove the internal fuel that feeds existing flames.
How do we accomplish such a feat? By adjusting our attitudes and controlling our words. If enough of us can do these things on a personal level, I believe that most of the emotional wildfires that are consuming our nation will soon burn themselves out. Below are three keys.
1. Recognize the foolishness of condescending attitudes.
The writers of the New Testament were adamant in communicating a vital and relevant truth: all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; not one of us is good or worthy apart from our Lord and Savior. This message also means that none of us is better than any other. None. Not one. Zero. Nada.
When we take the stance of personal superiority, we betray our ignorance of our spiritual reality. No one has grounds to boast or to look with contempt upon another. Internal contempt will manifest itself in outward ways, igniting and fueling fires of conflict. Yes, a Christian can carry condescending attitudes, but he or she does so in opposition to Christ and contrary to His good desires.
2. Stop name calling.
When dealing with a controversial topic, I often read articles with opposing opinions as I work to develop an accurate perspective. At the very least, I learn a lot about how people feel and why they believe what they do.
I don’t mind opposing opinions, but there is one thing I do hate: demeaning name calling–like that which so often riddles our political arguments. If you have something to say but use terms such as “libtards” or “right-wing nutjobs,” you can be sure that you will lose me to the conversation. If you can’t treat others with respect, my confidence in the wisdom of your opinion takes a steep drop.
Of course, what I think doesn’t matter on the grand scale of things, but one thing you should take to heart: calling people demeaning names is tantamount to throwing gasoline on a fire that has already been set ablaze.
3. Jettison inflammatory language.
Few things ignite latent emotions more than inflammatory language. Imagine walking into a political rally and saying, “Your platform is stupid and nonsensical. Really, I’m not sure that you even have any coherent ideas.” How well do you think you would be received? How willing would the group be to accept your “superior” ideology? We might feel superior in our intellectual acuity, but our approach reveals an inferiority complex.
It is one thing to necessarily address an issue with bold honesty. It is another matter to seat ourselves on the high throne of superiority and to seethe with contempt as we look down our noses at opposing figures.
Inflammatory language and name calling are also indicators of an inability to articulate well-developed ideas. Rather than engaging others in rational dialogue, we resort to demeaning words and attitudes in an effort to discredit those who dare disagree with us. In the end, no one wins—not us, not our opponents, and certainly not the generations who will inherit our land in the condition which we have left it.
The Tongue Is a Consuming Fire
There is an old proverb that states, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). In the confidence of our own wisdom, we are foolishly destroying one of the most vital legacies we could leave for our children.
If you want to know who is destroying our nation, take a long look in the mirror to see if your tongue is on fire.
The tongue (and computer keyboard) is a consuming fire. If you can control yours, you have advanced beyond much of “civilization” as we know it.