Stopping Words That Hurt: Positive Words In A World Gone Negative, by Dr. Michael D. Sedler
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Chosen Books in exchange for an honest review.]
This is the sort of book that one reads and will immediately think of other people who really need to read this book as well, the sort of people who are always speaking or writing or typing words that hurt, engaging in malicious gossip, making false accusations, and creating, spreading, and giving ear to rumor and hearsay and evil reports and gossip and all other kinds of sinful manner of corrupt communication, all without going to the people and checking the facts and working for restoration of people to the good graces of others as well as the repair of damaged or fractured relationships. Further reflection will convince those fair-minded among ourselves that while there are certainly others who do engage in such practices towards us, that we too are part of the problem far too often and not nearly enough part of the solution.
Given the harsh biblical condemnation of gossip and evil reports and talebearing and related sins and its ubiquity among humanity, this book does a particularly admirable job of translating the often vague and esoteric language of the sin of talebearing to practical examples in everyday life, including examples that all of us are likely to understand all too well, realizing our own frequent complicity in such sins, with the aim of leading us to repent of those sins and to (with the help of God) amend our ways and engage in speaking words that heal rather than cutting words that hurt. If it is not an easy task, it is no less necessary because of the reality of the harm that evil reports, bitterness, resentment, and a lack of honest and loving communication have done in many relationships.
The book takes a descriptive approach, organized in a systematic way, to the many layers and stages of evil which are involved both in the speaking and in the hearing of evil reports. First, after an introduction to the power of the spoken (or written) word, we are cautioned to be alert to the “sales pitch” of those who are spreading evil reports and looking for our sympathy and support with their negative message. We are then reminded of the Christian obligation to control the tongue, spoken of eloquently by the apostle James, and then the importance of our attitude towards others, especially hearing or speaking negative about those who are not present to defend themselves. The author then gives sound reasons as to why we gossip, gives practical advice on why and how we should keep free from the verbal contamination of even listening or reading to evil reports, as well as avoiding the often subtle seduction of such dark arts. Though the author appears unaware of it, his analysis of the spell-like nature of evil reports and the harm that such talebearing has on the attitudes and relationships of others is not far off from the understanding of the Heliand in the spellbinding power of the word. Whether the spells we weave are guided by the Word of God or by the father of lies is up to us to decide.
After this the author discusses the need for us to avoid false alignments by putting us in sympathy with those who speak evil and act with disrespect and contempt for others, as well as a thoughtful (and personal and scriptural) examination of the damage to restoring relations when fear talks instead of love. In fact, I could relate personally to the harm done to relationships and their restoration both by my own fears and by the undeserved fears of others about me, as the experience of the author (minus the happy ending) is almost exactly what happened to me personally with a former coworker and sister in Christ. The use of the story of Joseph here was also particularly poignant. The author then continues his examination by looking at how we should judge the impurity that results from evil reports in how we tend to believe evil reports, mistrust and misjudge the motives of the person about whom we have believed lies, and then withdrawl from that person without confronting our own mistaken presumptions and judgments.
This most excellent and practical book then closes with an exhortation for believers to speak and walk in the truth, and then provides some excellent advice on how we may cleanse ourselves of the damage done through either creating or believing evil reports about others, learn how to replace our speaking words that hurt with words that heal and restore broken relationships and show the grace that we have been given to others, advice on how to restore relationships, and then give some useful advice on how the way that we either respect or disrespect others in the home can greatly poison our families, even after our own particular greivances have been resolved in our hearts and minds (but not yet in our words). After reading this book, any reader who is thoughtful and reflective should recognize many cases where we have been wronged by others in this matter as well as having wronged others as well, with the attitude that we should all behave better in the future as well and set a good example for others that they may do likewise if they are godly people themselves and desire reconciliation and restoration of their own broken relationships.
The aim of this work is not for people to feel bad or guilty about what they have said or done in the past or how their own words and actions have led to the suffering of others, but for there to be a genuine confession of wrongs and a change of our ways so that we behave in a more Christlike fashion in our conversation. Given the nearly universal problem of either giving active or implied consent to the evil reports of others or to creating or spreading them ourselves, none of us (certainly not I) have any room to be harsh or condemnatory about people, but all of us have both hurt and been deeply hurt by the evil reports of others. In light of this universal experience, we therefore ought to be sensitive to follow the directions of Matthew 18 and seek a restoration with those who have caused offense to us, if such a desire for merciful and loving reconciliation is shared by others, without a desire to humiliate or degrade those who have wronged us in fear and confusion. Let us all hope that we may be better models of godly love and communication.