The word “devastation” is being used to describe the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian’s direct hit on the Bahamas.
If you have seen some of the first pictures from the Bahamas, I feel certain you would agree, “devastation” is an appropriate word. It is rooted in the Medieval Latin expression, “to lay waste.”
Although we see the images, it hard to fully grasp what has happened to so many. People’s homes have been lost, communities erased and lives lost.
This terrible tragedy, and the proper use of the word “devastation” reminds me that some words are used so often, and in such insignificant ways, they lose their power. I once heard a Christian college President, Dr. Matt Proctor, use the example of the word “awesome” to illustrate this point. He noted how strange it was that the same word used to describe God, the Creator of the universe, was also used by some to describe a pizza.
There are other words that suffer the same fate.
We speak of “hell on earth.” I have met people who have experienced such pain and sorrow in this life, I fully understand why they say they have “been through hell.” But have they really? I do not wish to diminish what others have endured, but there is one major difference between the horrors of hell and that of earth: God is not present in hell. At least on earth, we have a Heavenly Father to hold us, love us, comfort us and guide us. I don’t think there is any way we can imagine what it means to experience pain outside of the presence of God, with the possible exception of those who have been victimized by something so dark and evil, God seemed non-existent. But even in these cases, He was, indeed, present. Hell, on the other hand, is a place of absolute separation from God.
Don’t worry. I won’t criticize you for saying you have “been through hell.” I get it.
I’m just saying, we must not forget the difference between a metaphorical reference and the real thing. The same thing is true of positive words such as love. How can my love for blackened chicken possibly compare to my love for my wife of 37 years? Or Christ’s love for me on the cross? For one thing, you will never catch me making a significant sacrifice for a blackened chicken sandwich.
OK, maybe a small one, such as driving an extra mile or two out of my way.
Hopefully, you get my point.
We throw words around loosely. And in a day when personal, verbal attacks have become commonplace, we think nothing of using degrading words to describe others. However, Jesus once said, if we call our brother an empty-headed fool, we are in danger of going to hell (Matthew 5:22).
That’s the real hell. Not the pretend one.
Words matter. The right word can help us fully appreciate what has occurred in others’ lives, such as those whose world has been devastated by Hurricane Dorian.
The wrong word can diminish a greater subject, or overstate a lesser experience.
If we can’t think of the right word, there is always an alternative. We can remain silent (Proverbs 11:12).
At times, silence is the best word of all.