Tony the Tiger needs to upsell you on his cereal. God doesn’t.
You probably remember growing up and hearing the Frosted Flakes slogan: “More than good…They’re great!” And while I happen to agree that Frosted Flakes are a worthy addition to the hierarchy of breakfast, I think the little catch phrase communicates much about our view of language, and subsequently our view of God.
We live in an era where objective language has been replaced by subjective experience. One of my professors pointed this out when it comes to commercials. Ten years ago products were sold by interviewing a professional: drugs were endorsed by doctors, weight loss programs by physical trainers. But in today’s marketplace the motivation for sales comes from an individual’s testimony: this pill changed my life, this program made me fit and sexy…etc.
The Slow Slide
The side effect of this transition is that we are now using language to describe our experience with something rather than using language to describe the quality of something. C.S. Lewis called this “verbicide: the murder of a word.” Simon Heffer comments on Lewis’ term: “[Lewis] describes [verbicide] as happening by inflation (writing tremendous where one could as easily have written great) and by verbiage, the use of a word that promises but does not deliver: ‘the use of significant as if it were an absolute, and with no intention of ever telling us what the thing is significant of.’”
What Lewis and Heffer are illustrating is that exaggerated and disconnected language actually hurt the object you wish to describe. To say the word “significant” is insignificant unless I can also convince you of the reasons for its significance. Additionally, to say that something is “gigantic” could often muddy the picture of something which is better communicated as “big.”
What this has led to is a culture of hyperbolic (exaggerated) language where we are often discontented when something proves to simply be “good” when it could be “fantastic.” We live in a culture where good is no longer good enough, and our words have been watered down.
This can often become a problem for us when we are reading the Bible or sharing the gospel. In the ESV the word “good” is used 736 times, and its superlative “great” is used 980 times. Obviously the Bible uses these words broadly, but I think it is significant especially when we see how Jesus speaks of himself.
All of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) include a story of a rich young man asking Jesus: “Good teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (Matt 19:16, Mark 10:17, Luke 18:9). The tone of Jesus’ answer is the same in all the accounts: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
Jesus answered this way not to show a separation between him and God, but rather to make a statement about himself as God. God is good. God is good qualitatively and objectively. God loves language. God created language. God created through language. And the God of all language chose to describe himself as good.
In our culture of exaggerated language we might think that God needs to be “super,” or “stellar,” or “epic.” But our God is good. Simply, wonderfully, good. Often times my overstimulated brain can breeze over verses like, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). I need the goodness of God to fall on me. A thimble of God’s goodness is good enough to satisfy us for all eternity.
This is why we preach the “good news.” I have a degree in journalism and in many ways, “good news” doesn’t cut it. We need breaking news, engaging news, edgy, steamy, and scandalous news. But the gospel is truly good news. Those who believe it have tasted the “goodness” of God himself (1 Peter 2:3). The gospel is therefore significant because it is ultimately good.
This past month I have been overwhelmed by God’s great kindness to me. I don’t want to lose the weight of that word. There is no better word than “kindness” when it comes to describing God’s interaction with his people. Psalm 145:17 says, “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and kind in all his works.”
We may know kindness on a human level, but God’s kindness is qualitatively different. It is of an infinite nature. Paul instructs us to see the kindness of God in the gospel (Rom 11:22). And in that kindness I find myself greatly aware of Jesus’ mercy toward me.
In Titus 3:4-5 Paul says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us…” I want to be aware of the weight of language because I do not want to lose raw weight of the gospel.
Jesus is good. Jesus is kind. Jesus saves. These words might not sell many movies today, but they should move our hearts to worship. God used language to communicate to us, we should be careful not to disregard the language with which God reveals himself.