Our Speaking & Our Doing
The discrepancy between saying and doing is common enough. None of us, except the Christ, always say what we mean. Sometimes, I suppose, the cause for our inadequacy is that we often speak without really thinking a matter through. We simply speak too quickly. We may make a promise to do something we really cannot fulfill, and as a result, our friends lose confidence in us. We promise, but we do not perform. We over-promised; we under-delivered.
This dichotomy between speaking and doing is a mirror of the inner self. Our words reflect who we are just as our actions disclose what we are like inside. A kind man will use kind words, as well as act in a kind way toward others. As Williams Wordsworth has noted, the best portion of a good man’s life is found in his small, and unremembered acts of kindness. The good man portends no pretense. He does not have to think either about his words or his actions. It is in his nature to be mild, his nature to be generous, his nature to be kind. The Lord, of course, went about doing good (Acts 10.38). He who was God in the flesh had to act godly. The Christ was meek and gentle.
The Lord once said that what was inside of a man is what comes out of him. If a man says hurtful and evil things, it is because his heart is hurtful and evil. His heart is putrid —
Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
If I understand the Lord correctly, there is a vicious cycle here. A man shows he is evil both by what he says and by what he does. His warped perspective, of course, comes from within, comes from a noxious and infected heart. Whether lying, or murder, or adultery – these first have unseen beginnings within a rotting soul. And yet, the evil that is within returns to the same man, causing him to become even more corrupt. His rancor comes from a defiled heart and once spoken or acted upon, that same rancor returns to defile the man even more. Adultery never makes a man a better man; adultery always makes him worse.
Perhaps, such is why we just as soon avoid the angry man even when he is not angry toward us. How he talks about others to us is how he will talk about us to others. His words and tone of voice simply make us feel uncomfortable. Indeed, even after we have escaped his presence, we somehow feel as if we need to take a bath. The hatred he spewed fell on us as well.
As to the angry man himself, his venting of bitterness results in his becoming even more angry. Ironically, by talking about how angry he is, he talks himself into becoming even more odious. Consider, for instance, two men in a spiteful argument. Everything escalates out of control with one man eventually murdering the other. And sometimes not even murder will placate an abiding hatred: “Yes, I killed him, and I am glad that I did it.”
A similar scenario can happen in a bad marriage. A man and a woman can argue so viciously that their love dies with the marriage rupturing into full divorce. Even after the divorce, the hatred can continue unabated. You will often hear a man talk about his ex-wife as if he were still in the vortex of a bad argument. As for the woman, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. A divorced wife will sometimes even use her children as weapons to bludgeon the husband who once loved her. She may well hurt him, but in the process, she further hurts herself and may irreparably damage her own children. The fact is that once engendered, evil can never be self-contained again. Not even the passing of years can lessen its harrowing disgust. The woman who hated the loud raucous noise of her husband’s alarm clock will find herself setting that same alarm clock to go off at 4:30 in the morning, just as she did when she and he were married. More often than not, his second wife will be the same personality type as his first wife. Divorce does not help. Only God can forgive evil. Only God can heal a marriage gone wrong.
This interplay, though, between saying and doing causes us to reflect further. People form an opinion about my tone of voice as well as my choice of words. An ignorant man may seek to impress us with his anger, but his crude obscenities also depict him as an ignorant man with limited vocabulary. Usually, he repeats the same vile word over and over again. He is literally stuck, mired in the mud of his own life and of his own making. He may think he impresses others with his outbursts of anger, but only those like himself find his drama engaging. Most people are not interested in listening to a bore, especially an insensitive bore.
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord uses a metaphor of a man who built his own house on sand, a senseless plan which could only result in disaster:
Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
A house without a foundation has to collapse. Like the man who built a house on a rock, this man also built a house. The two builders both heard the Lord, but one heard and did. The other heard and did nothing. The intrigue in this metaphor brings further insight, however. Whether we are speaking or listening, both activities are linked to sound, but sound is dynamic, ephemeral. Sound cannot last but for a moment. Sound fades into a vanishing echo. However, when I speak evil, that evil does not fade; the words that I utter may vanish into invisible air, but not the life I have breathed into those words.
My listening to advice is no different. If I do not heed what is said, even the best advice can never make a difference in me. I hear. I may listen politely, but I do nothing else. In effect, I build on sand. The advice evaporates into thin air. Indeed, a man may listen to the words of Christ, but remain unaffected by the sermon he hears. Some that day heard the words of the Christ himself, but left as they had come. It may be enough for us to speak evil, but it is not enough to hear good. We must do more than listen. You might say that unless we put good into practice, even the words of Christ are no good.