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What are words? Nothing more than symbols, metaphors, pointers.

Words aren’t real. But they restrict your experience of reality. Words can’t see. But they limit your vision. Words have no more power than that which you give them, which is just enough power to bind you. You are trapped by your words, hemmed in — even in your ability to perceive and think — by the words you have at your disposal.

Take, for instance, the common claim that Jesus died on a cross. What does it mean to die? I asked a few of my students, and they offered the following possibilities: 1) a ceasing of existence, 2) the end of life, 3) total absence of a previously existent living thing.

So what do you mean when you say that Jesus died? Fully God and fully man, did he cease to exist? Can God, omnipresent God, stop being present?

It’s just an issue of semantics, you may argue. But that’s not true. If words are what you know, then it can’t be “just” semantics (as if such issues of vocabulary are beneath you). Your entire theology — a collection of words — is at stake.

How do you escape this tyranny of words? Words were meant to serve, not rule. Throw out the dusty slogans, the tired metaphors, the lazy platitudes, the claims of convenience. Think about what you really mean, about what you believe. Try on some new words. But don’t be too quick to purchase what others are wearing, don’t settle for a single outfit and don’t be afraid to go without for awhile.

Think about what you really mean, about what you believe. Try on some new words.


  1. I wouldn’t mind a continuance (part II) to this post. If you’re up to it.

  2. ericmuhr

    Sounds like work worth doing. Thanks for the prompt, Shannon!

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