Words, and How Not to Use Them


I'm going to wash your vulgar mouth out with soap!

“Heh, heh, heh, heh, Beavis, John Piper said, ‘ass.'”

On the heels of my post yesterday about confronting the F-word comes my response to the hubbub about Pastor John Piper’s comment at a conference that sometimes “God kicks our ass.” Wayne Grudem felt led to jump into the fray concerning Pastor John’s potty mouth. And, of course, half the Godblogs in my sidebar links could not resist the compulsion to comment.

I guess I can’t, either. My reaction: yawn.

This is the kind of Evangelical rathole that makes Christians the laughingstock of the world. We’re not seen as a joke because we follow a risen Christ, but because we’re so obsessed with filtering out gnats while gorging on camels. When the lost can see it and we can’t, does that honor God at all?

The Bible says this:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
–James 3:6-9 ESV

Reread that italicized portion. Therein lies all you need to know about “those words.”

You see, real profanity is not contained in a word found in a dictionary. Words only have power when they possess intent and direction. The very fact that many Evangelicals equate cursing with saying a naughty word shows how we’ve lost all wisdom. A true curse has the intent of damaging another person. It’s a wish the sayer hopes to see come to fruition. In a way, it’s a kind of magical incantation designed to wound.

That we’ve so fully jettisoned that understanding is why people get upset about Piper’s comment.

Let me make myself clear. Piper saying that sometimes “God kicks our ass” isn’t profanity, by any means. On the contrary, if I need to hear that God’s going to kick my ass, then please tell me and use the strongest words possible! The word ass here doesn’t matter one way or another. What matters is whether we are cursing our brother. And Piper clearly was not doing so.

This is why many of the very people who get all flustered over a word like ass are the same people who are likely to say, “You’re a wicked heretic, and God is going to punish you.” No “bad words” uttered, but the direction and intent of the words are meant to attack another human being. If those words are true and inspired by the Holy Spirit who can see into the hearts of all men, then no foul. But if they are not, they bring destruction upon a person made in the likeness of God. They are a curse.

We Evangelicals simply do not grasp this. Any casual glance around the Godblogosphere every day shows one Christian cursing another. Comment sections in Godblogs are filled to the brim with accusations of heresy, cutting remarks, and snide assertions about other commenters’ eternal destination. In the vast majority of cases, those words are curses against a fellow brother or sister in Christ. Yet not one of George Carlin’s infamous “Word You Can’t Say on the Radio” is ever uttered.

The unbridled tongue that God hates isn’t the one that says, “God kicks our asses.” It’s the one that says, “The guy in the cubicle next to mine at work is a real ass.” There’s no cursing in saying, “I will die.” On the other hand, “I hope you die!” is a curse before God when said against another human being.

All this hoopla comes off as just another case of Evangelicals missing the point in their rush to appear holy. Do we think that 80 years of never uttering a “dirty word” is going to look good in heaven when every day we tear down another person with our supposedly clean words?

God forgive us for missing the point!

28 thoughts on “Words, and How Not to Use Them

  1. Pingback: Making an ass of you and me, blessing our chldren and silence at The Blog Of Dysfunction
  2. Jon Bartlett

    Thank you for a sane comment amongst a lot of web-wide hysteria about very little. Our priorities are just so warped and sub-Christian.

    • John,

      Sometimes I just can’t understand how anyone can miss the greater point. I suspect it’s because our understanding of God and how we relate to Him and to each other is so underdeveloped.

  3. “hoopla” indeed! I’m so weary of it all and regret ever participating in any of it in the past. “…if I need to hear that God’s going to kick my ass, then please tell me and use the strongest words possible!” Amen!

    • Patricia,

      Thanks. There’s no crime in participating in it in the past. I think that everyone needs to participate in it, actually. In some way, we all do at some point in our Christian walk. We’re like the young person in our religious zeal ready and eager to stone the woman caught in adultery. Then this rabbi says something about our own sin. We may be the last one to drop our rock, but the next time a stoning is called for, we think twice. That’s called maturity. None of us would be where we are today if we had not passed through that “participation” stage.

  4. I wonder how many will count the number of times you used the word ‘ass’, and at the same time, completely miss your point? Odd, aren’t we? It’s almost as though God brought water out of a rock right in front of our eyes, and we yawn and say, “what next?” No wonder ‘hypocrite’ seems reserved by the world to refer to a Christian!

  5. Great post Dan. I respect Piper for having the humility to apologize when he realized his words had upset others, but the way so many have enthusiastically chimed in to congratulate him for his repentance has been rather embarrassing.

  6. francisco

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more with you. I’m sadden for the whole thing. And a bit upset of how people jump to comment without looking at their hearts first. It is so sad that it gets depressing. Come Lord Jesus, Come!

  7. Shoot, gives me a new respect for the man! Good for him. People need to be offended every now and again, if only to allow them to take stock of what it is they truly value. But then again, those who are most offended are probably not going to step back and ask themselves why.

    This is the only evangelicalesque blog I read and I love what Dan has to say. Glad I don’t regularly digest what that incendiary crowd serves up each day.

  8. Lisa,

    I think part of the problem is that some people view following Jesus as a system. But it can never be so clinical. When it gets clinical, that’s when you see a religious spirit develop in people—to the detriment of their hearts.

    And thanks for being such a select reader! I’ll have to keep up my writing chops. Every time I hit the “Publish” button in WordPress, I say, “Now what flab could I have chopped? Did I trim ‘that’ and ‘in order to,’ or do they litter my post?” The speed at which I blog worries me. I keep thinking people will see this as the ne plus ultra of my writing and write me off.

    I guess every writer suffers from that little red devil on his or her shoulder saying, “You call that an edit?” Over Christmas, I FINALLY finished the first full edit of my WIP. The relief lasted about twelve seconds before the realization set in that edit number two will be even more daunting and full of mental sweat.

    I don’t know which is tougher, writing stacks of unpublished short stories or editing a novel that reflects past writing chops I’ve since improved upon.

    • francisco

      Short and long stories, both have their merits.
      I like writing short stories because they take work but not the kind required to write a full novel that should be daunting.
      On the other hand, the ‘bulk’ (as Wilberforce would say it) is more likely to read longer stories to entertain them in a soap-opera like fashion. In other words, stories that capture people’s attention make it. Otherwise they are put to rest on favor of warcraft, t.v., youtube, and -keep an eye on this because my generation is so into this- online social networks (myspace, facebook and the like).

      p.s. It is funny to see that many latino soap-operas have a basic script that once launched to public, it is written on the fly. A character is killed, a scandal is brought up, once in a while to stir up rating. When that does not work, well they just put them to death. Perhaps old-style brazilian ones stand out as the exception to the rule. Don’t know much about recent history because I no longer employ my time on those pursuits (very addicting btw)
      p.p.s. btw, you never got back to me with the story I sent you 😉 I understand your busyness…

  9. So God doesn’t give a damn about Piper’s using “ass to make a point? Then what could he care about?
    I wonder how much of the Bible some Christians read. There are some verses which don’t make it into the Leave-It-to-Beaver Bible reading program.

    Malachi 2:3 – Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it.

    What have we done with our translation? These are not your “strongest words possible. “I will spread dung on your faces Dung? This is God on prozac!
    And one final verse to show that Piper is in heroic company:

    Judges 15:6 – Then Samson said, “With a donkey’s jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey’s jawbone I have killed a thousand men.”

    The NIV is the best of any major translation, the others pick the nonsensical “heaps upon heaps to translate Samson’s repetition of “he-ass.
    So some Bible translations are half-assed, using euphemisms to mute God’s rage or to conceal Samson’s derision for his enemies. How can we expect “good Christians to know the proper use of profanity? We have no idea what ticks God off. He certainly would never even entertain the idea of kicking my ass.

  10. Dan, yours is the first post I have ever read on the issue of “profanity” that finally made sense to me. Very well said, my friend.

    Now, having said that, I am still not a big fan of “those words”, and I especially shudder at the other ditch in the road, which uses words solely for their shock value.

    But you have helped me finally see a more balanced view on this. Seeing Piper’s use of the word doesn’t make me think any differently of him one way or the other (certainly doesn’t automatically raise my respect of him, as one commenter said), but your post has drawn a very clear and necessary distinction between words that are verboten and the heart behind those words.

    Thank you for that, Dan. You’ve helped me a bit on this today, and I appreciate it!

  11. I wonder if your position would have been the same if Piper had said, “Man, this ain’t no Mother-F’n lie. God kicks my ass every F’n day. That’s what keeps me humble.” Now I have to tell you that I feel “creepy” just typing that sentence, but why should I? I’m not even using the term to denote sexual intercourse. In fact, it’s a nonsense word in the context, a mere expletive; but I’m willing to bet that nobody who is waving the hanky for Piper on this blog would use that sentence. I think that you “yawn” because the word that Piper used is becoming more common in everyday language. It’s used everywhere, all the time. Familiarity is destroying its impact, but I’m not sure whether or not impact should be the criteria for whether or not certain words ought or ought-not to be used. Like it or not there are words that are considered profane in every language, and that one (particularly in certain geographical areas) qualifies. Piper needs to be sensitive to those who might feel that way. I find it ironic (in the truest sense of the word) that he spoke that phrase in an attempt to describe the manner in which God keeps him humble, and in the same breath arrogantly ignored the consciences of those present.


    • Gary,

      I wrote in my post “The F-World” that I don’t appreciate throwaway uses of those words. I think they do have a place, but they have a selective place used with caution and wisdom.

      By definition, profanity comes from “to profane,” which means to assault the holiness or respect of something or someone. Profanity is, in essence, an assault against God or that which He values, such as the people He created.

      I don’t believe that a lone word does this. I believe any words, “naughty” or otherwise can accomplish that profaning. As I noted in my post, a string of utterly clean words strung the right way can be more profane than a string of George Carlin’s expletives.

      We need to show wisdom on this. Unfortunately, we can tear each other to shred with “clean” words and no one thinks anything of it. But a single usage of one of Carlin’s words drives some people up the wall. I’m asking for perspective here, not license.

  12. Great balanced post Dan. I think we need to kick their ass! They are so abusive of Christianity, it’s just not funny! If Piper hadn’t apologised, they probably would say he is going to hell. Keep up the good work Dan, it’s appreciated.

    Be encouraged.

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