Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have engaged in a war of words that has done little to enhance prospects for peace. (Left photo CNS/Reuters, right photo CNS/KCNA)

Words are powerful tools for good... and evil

  • November 6, 2017
“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

In its coverage of the end-of-September United Nations General Assembly meeting, CNN aired a segment that could have come straight out of a skit from Saturday Night Live.

Either side of the screen showed photos of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in various goofy facial poses and hair styles. The middle of the screen displayed a list of colourful insults the leaders had hurled at each other.

The segment was almost comical, except for the fact that the stakes of such foolish talk are very high.

Words are incredibly powerful. From the moment God spoke the universe into existence in the first chapter of Genesis, the Old and New Testaments are packed with exhortations of how crucial it is for us to control what we say. This is vital because our words create an atmosphere of love or hate, security or insecurity, creation or destruction that people will often act upon.

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of destroying a relationship through impulsive, heat-of-the-moment words. We may have also gone through situations in which our spoken words in a particular area of our lives came true, for better or for worse.

This is because “the tongue has the power of life and death,” notes Proverbs 18:21. James 3:1-12 likens the tongue to a small spark that sets forests on fire, a “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Matthew 12:32-37 explains that “the mouth speaks whatever fills the mind,” and goes on to warn us that we’re directly accountable to God for what we say.

On a global level, that accountability also stretches to billions of people who are anxiously watching what will happen next.

Trump’s and Kim’s volatile exchanges throughout 2017 have been within the context of North Korea’s nuclear missile program. According to an Oct. 19 CNN report, North Korea has fired almost two dozen missiles with various ranges since the beginning of this year, “further perfecting its technology with each launch.”

Some media reports claim Kim is testing its missiles to prevent a U.S.-led regime change in North Korea, which the U.S. denies.

In response to U.S.-South Korean military drills ahead of Trump’s visit to the region on Nov. 5, the North Korean government issued a statement vowing to “mercilessly smash the war frenzy of the U.S. and South Korean puppet warmongers to get rid of the abyss of ruin through dangerous war gambling and inflict the most miserable death on the invaders.”

That came two months after Trump told reporters: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Such destructive, evil words spoken out of anger, ego, jealousy, fear and deceit break relationships and pave the way for threats to eventually become reality.

This is one of the themes of the papal encyclical Pacem In Terris (On Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity, and Liberty), written in a post-Hiroshima era anxious about the buildup of nuclear weapons and other armaments. It’s as if Pope John XXIII saw the future and was trying to convince Trump and Kim to stop their war of words. In 1963 he wrote that disputes between nations “must be resolved by negotiation and agreement, and not by recourse to arms.”

“We are hopeful that, by establishing contact with one another and by a policy of negotiation, nations will come to a better recognition of the natural ties that bind them together,” he wrote.

The encyclical notes “that love, not fear, must dominate the relationships between individuals and between nations.”

Words are the building blocks of these relationships. Matthew tells us our words spring from hearts that contain either good or evil treasure.

These words, whether spoken in our private lives or on the world stage, are powerful tools that can either bring reconciliation, healing and love, or cause division, destruction and hatred.

As Ephesians 4:29 tell us, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

(Majtenyi is a researcher and communications specialist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.)

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