By Ward Shope
As a family that lived in the Netherlands for four years, there were certain treats that we not only liked then, but now have nostalgic value to us. The other day, Debbie and I sat down to our daily late afternoon tea time and munched on a Dutch cracker that I particularly like. We realized that there was one word on the package that we did not know. So we pulled out one of our old “Dutch-English” dictionaries. That led to a discussion about several other ways to say things in Dutch, which led to pulling out two more dictionaries as our curiosity about how to say things in English and Dutch took us down memory lane. (Not surprisingly, the literal translation for dictionary in Dutch is “words-book”.)
Dutch is a very graphic language. If you know enough basic Dutch words, you can often guess at what a Dutch word should be—and often you are right. Even if it isn’t a word, a “Netherlander” will know what you mean. The language is straightforward. Things are called what they should be. A compassionate person is a “love-haver”. A screwdriver is exactly what it describes. Many Dutch words are like that.
Culturally the Dutch are also straightforward. They believe the politeness of Americans is overrated. Americans in their eyes are too sensitive, too sentimental, always beating around the bush and too eager for a happy ending. Dutch language and Dutch culture reflect one another. Things that we would hesitate to say to someone in the US would easily be said—and often received in the Netherlands. You might not like it—but then there are many things people don’t like. No big deal.
The Dutch way of talking and behaving is not necessarily better. But who they are as a people is reflected in how they speak. That’s just as true of Americans. And quite truthfully, it’s true of me personally. What I say and how I say it reflects who I am. Sometimes I am horrified at what goes through my mind and comes out of my mouth. Other times, I recognize the work of the Spirit in me.
This isn’t a tirade about cuss words. Nor is it an encouragement to mind your verbal manners. It goes far deeper than that. When Jesus spoke, people understood that he was speaking with the authority that comes from God (Mark 1:21-22). Many of his words were encouraging to the poor and oppressed, those who were humbled by life . But Jesus isn’t “nice.” He also confronted others who were proud, warning them of the judgment to come and calling them to repentance (Luke 6:20-26). Behind the words, their source was an unwavering love of the Father whose Kingdom he came to bring.
James tells us that it’s impossible for the spring from which our words come to be salty sometimes and fresh sometimes (James 3:1-11). But as a broken and sinful human being, I experience that. I say many things I shouldn’t and don’t say things I should. Many of my words are wasted and mean nothing. While some encourage, others sow brokenness. This anomaly tells me that, sadly, my heart still strays.
The correction is not mere willpower over my words. It is a deeper walk with Jesus. I cannot speak with the same authority he speaks. But my words can reflect his heart as he lives and works within me. Ultimately, if I want my words to contribute to his Kingdom, their source must be him. And when they fail to pull from that source, there is forgiveness in his cross and resurrection.