A little while ago, I began noticing facebook links with a similar pattern:
“The Cutest Kittens Ever! #3 Will Leave You Smiling for Days!”
“You Won’t Believe These Sunrises! #20 Made Me Cry!”
“This three year old is the funniest dancer ever!!”
And so on. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why these things bothered me so much; I just knew they did. My only rebuttal was simply not clicking on the links. Until now.
In preparing to teach on oaths and vows from the Sermon on the Mount, I came across this thoughtful application by John Stott. (Keep in mind that this was written back in 1978; apparently the internet has only exacerbated an already human problem.) In speaking about the heart issue of truthfulness, he notes:
‘Oaths arise because men are so often liars.’ The same is true of all forms of exaggeration, hyperbole and the use of superlatives. We are not content to say we had an enjoyable time; we have to describe it as ‘fantastic’ or ‘fabulous’ or even ‘fantabulous’ or some other invention. But the more we resort to such expressions, the more we devalue human language and human promises. Christians should say what they mean and mean what they say. Our unadorned word should be enough, ‘yes’ or ‘no’. And when a monosyllable will do, why waste our breath by adding to it?
With his usual insightfulness and brevity, Stott nails it. With every overblown superlative (“the best! the worst! the mostest!”), human language means a little less and we become a little less truthful. While we have no power to edit other people’s facebook feeds – or their mouths – we can certainly edit our own. Our trustworthiness depends not merely on whether we avoid lying like snakes but also on whether we uphold truth in the ways that we talk. And the ways that we don’t talk.
Perhaps pastors are more guilty of this than most. It is an easy trap to proclaim a particular passage or truth to be “the most important!”, not out of fact, but for the sake of emotional manipulation. But sometimes a particular sermon or lesson isn’t the most important one ever. Such constant use of manipulation through superlatives and disproportionate adjectives only serves, in time, to make us less trustworthy.
Jesus let his “yes” be “yes” and his “no” be “no.” Whether online or in person, we can follow his example by taking more care with the words we use and don’t use.