Back on March 4 I gave you another Carl Trueman quote, this time about how we all need to get tougher when it comes to being hurt by what people say and write about us. In the past week I read the next chapter in his book Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread (P&R, 2012), titled “Am I Bovvered?” (Now, there’s a great “Wednesday word”!), and here Trueman admits that, yes, sometimes people’s words do hurt us. And what should we do about that? Is what they say reality? How do I handle ridicule and scorn?
Interestingly, to find answers he turns to the theology of Martin Luther and the gospel of the Reformation, joining together justification by grace alone through faith alone with the preaching of the Word of God. And I thought that on this “Word Wednesday”, as we think about not only the meaning of words but also the power of words, these would be some good thoughts for us.And perhaps, thinking on these things, we may also find our true consolation when we are truly hurt by what people say.
Here is Trueman:
This is yet again where I find that giant of Protestant theology, Martin Luther, to be a singularly useful source of personal help and pastoral insight.
…Central to Luther’s Reformation theology was his understanding of how words constitute reality. …In other words, reality – real reality – was exactly what God declared it to be.
And then, after pointing to two examples of this “real reality” of what God says (creation and the cross), Trueman takes us to the Reformation doctrine of justification:
Finally, this power of divine speaking culminates in justification. Luther understands that God does not find men and women righteous and then declare them to be so as some act of description of, or response to, an established state of affairs. Luther knows that God declares that which is drenched in sin, foul, obnoxious, and deserving of nothing but divine wrath – Luther, I say, knows that God declares this person to be righteous; and by the sheer power of the divine word, they then are righteous. This is no cosmic gas or mere legal fiction, as some have claimed; rather the divine word makes it so.
And now comes the application:
Others might tell me that I am a failure, an idiot, a clown, evil, incompetent, vicious, dangerous, pathetic, etc., and these words are not just descriptive: they have a certain power to make me these things, in the eyes of others and even in my own eyes, as self-doubt creeps in and the Devil whispers in my ear. But the greatness of Luther’s Protestantism lies in this: God speaks louder, and his Word is more powerful. You may call me a liar, and you speak truth, for I have lied; but if God declares me righteous, then my lies and your insult are not the final word, nor the most powerful word. I have peace in my soul because God’s Word is real reality.
Isn’t that precisely what we need to remember when others hurt us by their words? How simple, yet how profound!
And from that comes this further word of application from Trueman:
That’s why I need to read the Bible each day, to hear the Word preached each week, to come to God in prayer, and to hear words of grace from other brothers and sisters as I seek to speak the same to them. Only as God speaks his Word to me, and as I hear that Word in faith, is my reality transformed and do the insults of others, of my own sinful nature, and of the evil one himself, cease to constitute my reality. The words of my enemies, external and internal, might be powerful for a moment, like a firework exploding against the night sky; but the Word of the Lord is stronger, brighter, and lasts forever (pp.209-213).