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Retaliatory Speech

Last week, I wrote about different kinds of words and types of speech–basically broken down between good and bad, according to scripture. One kind of I speech I did not address is retaliatory speech.

This kind of speech usually occurs in two ways. It is in reaction to something negative that has been said about you personally. Politicians wallow in that kind of speech. “Senator X’s vote on this bill shows that he doesn’t care about poor and hungry children,” says Senator Y. Not to be outdone, Senator X responds or retaliates with: “Senator Y wouldn’t know a poor and hungry child if he stumbled over one. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, is filthy rich, and is one of the most elite members of the Senate.” And the war of words escalates from there. To top it off, these two senators are supposed to work together to solve our country’s problems?

Or a person writes something to which a second person takes offense, and the second person blasts the first person. This sometimes occurs between Christians. Not too long ago, a Christian writer said that she had changed her mind about gay rights and same-sex marriage. She was met with a barrage of criticism, some of it downright hateful. “She’s lost her faith.” Who, save God, should dare make such a judgment?

Is stating disagreement and the reason one disagrees too much to ask, without going further and questioning the other persons’s humanity or Christianity?

Consider I Peter 3:8-9 (NIV): “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Peter also informs us of the example Jesus set in a life and death situation: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (I Peter 2: 23)

Perhaps the most familiar passage of scripture about the proper way to respond to hateful words is found in Proverbs 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Those words of wisdom sink further and further into the background in our debates, speeches, and conversations in all realms of society.

It’s sad.

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