I love words! And I think of myself as having a pretty robust vocabulary. After all, I grew up playing Scrabble with my mother! But a number of years ago I heard a word I didn’t know. And naturally, I did as I was brought up to do… I looked it up!
Vitriol. That’s the word. It has all the bite of venom and then some. It crept into our language through chemistry. Caustic. Acidic. Corrosive. Virulent. Nasty stuff in other words. When I first heard the word it was used in conjunction with politics. But politicians are not the only breed prone to be vitriolic. It’s an all-inclusive human thing. Any one of us on any given day can be venomous with our out-loud words or in our thoughts harbored toward others. And in this country, this culture in which we so value our individual freedom, vitriol can rage unchecked.
I’m ready for a cure. An antidote. A cleanse. Something to flush the venom out of our systems. Some plan of action that would banish vitriol to the chemistry lab for good. It’s destructive for the world of us and for every clump of us. I’m just not a fan of stuff that breaks down and tears apart. Without retaliating in kind, I want the vulture-like picking to end.
Yes, I recognize vitriol has been around for as long as humans have. But I believe it can stop. And I firmly believe we who find our life in Christ effected by the Spirit are created, called and equipped to be noticeably different from much of the world around us. Jesus said the one distinguishing quality of his people is the kind of love with which God loves (John 13:35). That love, Paul says, “is kind, isn’t jealous, doesn’t brag, isn’t arrogant, isn’t rude, and doesn’t seek its own advantage” (I Corinthians 13:4).
And knowing well how difficult it is to hold communities of human beings together, the preacher to the Hebrews doesn’t mince words: “Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people” (12:15). And if we need to hear it full-strength, here it is: “No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Yet with God, with grace it is possible. There are many encouraging words in the Scriptures! Colossians uses the language of a wardrobe change: “Set aside these things, such as anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. Don’t lie to each other. Take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature” (3:8-10a).
Let’s give it a go! In addition to loving words, let’s love with our words!