One of the leading stories in today’s news concerns a young woman, Michelle Carter, facing manslaughter charges for allegedly coercing her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. He was 18 and she was 17. While at earlier points in their relationship she tried to dissuade his talk of suicide (he had attempted suicide before meeting her), by the end she was insistent and even steered him onto the subject of taking his own life. The night he succeeded in killing himself by carbon monoxide poisoning, she even urged him at one point to get back into the truck. The hundreds of text messages she wrote are disturbingly callous and malicious, and she faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Her words are at the heart of this case, and prosecutors say she is complicit in his death because of all that she said (The Washington Post online, 6/7/17, Kristine Phillips and Swati Sharma).
It is incredible to consider that this young woman used her words to so discourage and deflate another human being, to even actively push him to die. Yet, Scripture tells each of us that, spiritually, we all are exercising the power to either promote life or death through our words. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.…” This is why Paul urges us to give thought about the character and nature of our speech, saying, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col. 4:6). Our speech can kill in many ways:
- Vulgar, coarse speech that can encourage others to think of the unwholesome and sinful
- Hypercritical speech that can deflate and discourage people’s good works
- Gossipy speech that can cause people to be divided and distanced from undeserving victims
- Dishonest speech that can lead people astray from the truth
- Railing, sinfully angry speech that can be self-destructive to the speaker
- Hypocritical speech that can cause people to be turned off by Christianity
We may be prone to excuse our words as harmless when in fact they can be a matter of spiritual life and death for ourselves or someone else. Our prayer should mirror that of the psalmist, who pleads, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psa. 141:3). We possess such power! Let us harness it and use it for life, not death (cf. Jas. 3:2-12).