Seventy years ago, in Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable uttered the first curse word in a popular movie. How things have changed! What was shocking in 1939 has become common place, even casually accepted, today.
In training your children, it is important for you to understand what makes words inappropriate. If you focus only on what is wrong you will miss the mark of bringing honor to God. For example, you compile a list of words that are “bad.” In their place you have a list of words that are acceptable alternatives. For example, words like darn, shoot, heck and doggone it, are seen as acceptable alternatives to their similar sounding bad counterparts. So, when you can’t find your keys, instead of using an unacceptable word, you use the corresponding acceptable word to express your frustration. But does the substitution of words rise to the standard of doing all that you do in the name of the Lord Jesus?
Consider this scene: your six-year-old son is carefully observing your search for the keys. As time passes your search becomes more frantic. You say, “Where are the _____ keys?” You fill in the blank with a word from the acceptable list. If your child sees a parent who is increasingly frustrated, angry and irritated, the language from either list is a symptom of a deeper issue.
Fast forward to the afternoon – you hear angry words coming from the playroom. You come in and see your six-year-old angrily storming around the room looking for a favorite toy. He says to his sister, I can’t find my darn truck! You correct your son and tell him he should not be angry and that if he is calm he will have a much better chance of finding his truck. He looks back at you with a look of confusion and, perhaps, exasperation.
You walk off thinking you have given helpful instruction. However, the real instruction took place in the episode with the keys in the morning. What happened in the afternoon was hypocrisy.
This is an example of at least one way to provoke your children to anger (Ephesians 6:4). What was overflowing from your heart in the hunt for the lost keys? Was there confidence in God’s care? Was there trust in God’s sovereignty over something as seemingly mundane as misplaced keys? Was there any thought of showing your child that being short, irritable and frustrated with lost keys is okay for parents but not okay for children?
Using a word from the accepted list does not really address the primary heart issue. And, if you mentally congratulate yourself at not using a bad word, the real issue – lack of trust in God – has been buried in misguided self-righteousness.
Don’t settle for merely substituting one set of words for another in an attempt to make your language pleasing to God. Rather, look to your heart, then to your mouth.
6 thoughts on “What makes bad language bad?”
Although I mostly agree, it seems like there is a place for strong language in some situations. If you’re in a convoy in Afghanistan and one of your buddies steps on an IED and gets blown apart in front of you, “Oh dear” seems mockingly heartless, and silence would probably be interpreted by your fellows as satisfaction or mental incapacity to carry on your own duties (shock). I don’t think strong language in situations like that (in real life or in cinematic depictions) reflect a heart problem.
Phil, thanks for your comment. I agree strong language is an appropriate response to the situations you mention. But I would disagree with what constitutes strong language. Using words that represent vile, obscene behavior does not necessarily constitute strong language. Reading the OT narratives we see plenty of strong language in response to death. There were cries of anguish, the tearing of clothes, and other displays of appropriate anger. No one said, “oh dear”. Sometimes the response was to be more committed to battle. After Jonathan’s death, David is recorded as lamenting “how the mighty have fallen!” Sometimes there was a cry for the name of God to avenged by soldiers who had lost comrades on the field of battle. These responses show great strength of character. We don’t need to use the world’s obscene words to show strength. The quoting of biblical language by the U.S. sniper in “Saving Private Ryan” seems out of place only because culturally we disconnected God from war. I would suggest that could be no stronger response than to cry out to God in agony and anger at the loss of a buddy in war.
Excellent article. It has become so commonplace for us (me included) to use the substitute word and think we are golden. To Mr. Woodhull, I share the sentiment, but I think a more productive approach to such devastation to a buddy would be offer him words of encouragement while working as hard as you can to assist him. In this way God’s light might shine through you.
I have often said that substitution words are still curse words because the persons mind is cursing. My coworkers feel that’s a little strict, but they aren’t Christians.
Truth is ALWAYS good for God’s children, thank you for bringing this to light. I can only speak to this for myself and I have been guilty. All things, if one seeks God’s instruction, He will send his message at just the right time. I ask for God’s forgiveness and repent, Thank you and may my speech only reflex my precious Savior!
Thank you for your input, it is so full of truth. Sounds like your father is a very wise man.