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The Eternal Significance of a Single Little Word

A Single Word

Jesus tells us—in fact, he solemnly warns us—that our words matter. Every single word we speak has significance. “I tell you,” he says, “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36). Not most of those careless words. Not some of those careless words. All of them. This is a terrifying thought for those of us who are prone to speak often, speak hastily, or speak harshly. It calls us to repent, then to guard our mouths and, equally, to guard our hearts, for it is out of the abundance or overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. Just like vomit reveals the contents of our sickened stomachs, our words reveal the contents of our sinful hearts.

If people will give account for even the careless words they speak, how much more the deliberate? Surely Jesus is making an argument here from the lesser to the greater! If there is significance in the words that spontaneously fly out of our mouths in moments of great pain or surprise, how much more the words that are spoken thoughtfully, solemnly, deliberately? If even the words count that we speak off the record, how much more the ones that we speak on the record?

A couple of days ago, U.S. senators were each given an opportunity to speak. They were not expected to say much—just one little word—but they had been given plenty of time to consider it. This would not be an idle word or a spontaneous reaction, but one that had been carefully weighed and considered. They were to speak a simple yea or a nay, a yes or a no, as their vote in favor of or against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a bill meant to extend basic human rights to infants who might survive an abortion procedure. Of the 97 who voted, 53 chose to speak “yea.” 44 chose to speak “nay.” And when the tally was complete, the bill was blocked, falling short of the 60 it required. There will be no protection for the most vulnerable.

There have been many reactions to this bill’s defeat, and they span almost the full range of human emotion. What is delightful to one is agonizing to another. What is an occasion of deep sorrow for some is a cause of celebration for others. I, like so many Christians, am both grieved and outraged. But I am also … is it chilled? I find myself reflecting on those 44 people who chose to speak that one word, that one calculated word, to defeat this bill.

Today they stand before American voters, but the day will come when they will stand—or fall to their faces more likely—before the Judge of all the earth. They will be called upon to give an account for that word, that one-syllable, three-letter, packed-with-significance word. I can’t help but wonder how that “nay” will sound before the throne, before the one who creates life, who loves life, who tells us to protect life. I can’t help but wonder whether that “nay” will resound through their minds—whether it will echo through their hearts—for all eternity as they face the appalling, unfathomable, eternal consequences of saying it. I can’t help but wish and pray and plead that before that day they will turn to the One who is willing and able to forgive even so great a transgression.

Update: An earlier version of this article flipped the vote tally.

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