“For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).
From the teen years and on, I’ve often experienced a sense of meaninglessness or emptiness, where it seems that even the best things are ultimately pointless, because they don’t last, and because of some sort of existential “so what” angst. Ecclesiastes is a great book about exploring emptiness. So is Jeremiah, especially the second chapter.
I’m a person of many dreams and many words. I love both. Dreams are fascinating and intense. Words are powerful and beautiful and clever. And yet I’ve experienced those times where many dreams and many words cannot fill the emptiness of my broken cisterns, where, for example, I’ll be ranting in my journal about something and just get tired of the words — some things are better off treated with silence. The power and beauty of words only goes so far.
Yesterday Messy Christian wrote about a special subset of words — swear or curse words. In the comments folks discuss to what extent it matters what particular words we use. It seems Christians generally agree that the essential issue is what’s in the heart — but less certain is whether it’s better to combat the heart problems by controlling one’s language, or better to start with authenticity even if it means matching language to heart. I think either approach can be healthy, as long as one keeps the other side in mind — work to control your tongue, but remember to search your heart and repent, and be careful not to worship your will as if you could stop sinning by will alone — speak your subjective truth, but remember to search your heart and repent, and be careful to consider the ears that may hear you.
Interestingly enough, when I was a young Christian I had a dream about God and foul language. My friend and I were at a youth group retreat, and after the day’s activities we were hanging out climbing trees in the dark. It started to rain, and we heard rumblings of thunder, so we started to run towards the building. Then we started seeing lightning. Seemed to me that it couldn’t get any worse, and I let fly a word or two. Instantly I was struck by lightning. When I woke, it seemed clear that I needed to quit cussing.
I suspect this dream had as much to do with my adolescent thinking as with any spiritual intervention… but there are examples in Scripture of God’s instant judgment: the fellows with the strange fire, Ananias and Saphira…
I don’t think fearing God means trying to live in such a way as to hide our fun from him or tiptoe around his pet peeves. I don’t think it means a paranoid belief that he’s out to get us. I think it does mean a weighty sense of who God is: almighty, creator, judge, as well as savior and father and friend. God is not to be taken lightly. Not that we’re to live somberly and without humor; but that our approach to all of life — eating and drinking and making merry, marrying and burying, working and playing, joking and crying — should be accompanied by a real awe.
In the same way, I shouldn’t merely stop cussing and check that one off my list of sins. I should take words seriously, remembering their power, and also I should dig deeper and use my words as an opportunity to search my heart and repent. Likewise I shouldn’t merely abandon dreams and words, but neither should I worship them; when I’m depending on my broken cisterns, many dreams and many words and no dreams and no words will be equally empty.
Rather, fear — and cling to, and hope in — God.