In recent weeks the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” was attacked by Islamists. The killing was cruel, and it has been justly condemned, and we suppose the perpetrators have received their just punishment. However, there can be no doubt that this magazine is highly provocative, making its living by often mocking religious institutions.
Clearly, many people feel provoked, and even the latest issue following the killing has provoked Muslims in Niger (a former French colony) to burn down churches.
Many people in the Western world have seen this brutal killing spree as an attack on free speech, but very few people have spoken about the responsibility that ought to be associated with free speech.
Is unrestrained speech a good thing?
The book of Proverbs thinks not. It reminds us that words have incredible power. They go deep. Proverbs 18:4 says “ the words of a man’s mouth are deep waters”. Proverbs 12:18 says that “rash words are like sword thrusts”.
The book of Proverbs advises us to restrain our words. Proverbs 17:27,28 says that “whoever restrains his words has knowledge… even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise…”. Proverbs 29:20 says: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul gives us a very important principle with respect to our use of words. He says: “Speak the truth in love“. It has been well said that “love without truth is hypocrisy “ , and “truth without love is brutality”. The biblical and balanced ways is always, “speaking the truth in love”. (Eph. 4:15)