Words That Uphold

 

"Your words have kept men on their feet"   (Job 4:4, Moffatt).

No one can be wrong all the time. Even a clock which has stopped is right twice a day. And even Eliphaz the Temanite, friend and torturer of Job, while making a beautiful record for garrulous lies, cannot quite score a   perfect mark. Once in a while he makes an unconscious detour into truth. Here, embedded in the midst of a diatribe, full of complacent, hypocritical approaches to Job, he strikes out a bit of sure insight, which gleams like a diamond in an ash barrel. He pays this tribute to Job: "Your words have kept men on their feet."

Unwillingly Eliphaz gives utterance to a profound historical truth. The solidest granite foundation which can be put under a human life is that most intangible thing in the world - a word. We talk lightly with such scorn of words; "mere words" is the usual phrase of contempt. Yet we live by them. Historically, men have been kept on their feet amid all the avalanches of circumstances and despair by words.

How much truer than this tiresome moralizer Eliphaz could possibly realize was this tribute to Job! His words have kept men on their feet. Take just two of his sayings, for instance: "I know that my redeemer liveth," and "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him. " What steadying erectors these words have been for unnumbered men and women throughout the centuries!

In the beginning was the word. And in the end is the word - for the life of   the spirit must rest on a spiritual foundation. The words which can keep men on their feet, which can keep them erect in the "fell clutch of circumstance," standing, not sinking in the quicksand of despair, which put iron into the backbone, are never tinkle or chatter, but words which are the spontaneous utterance of vertebrate souls, words into which life has been poured.

Such words are human girders. They are like ropes on an Alpine pass that keep men erect in steep and slippery places. What could be a more challenging or kindling possibility to be held before a man than that his words, the issue of his experience and of the character formed by experience, should be forces holding the spirits of other men erect on their feet?

And what a piercing question this makes for the church, in these days of sagging knees and crumpled hearts the world over - Will it find and utter words which can keep men on their feet? Will the millions who have gone down into the valley of the shadow of unemployment, those sunk under the titanic burdens of war, hear words creative enough, courageous enough, divine enough, to make new life and hope surge through heart and mind? "Son of man, stand upon thy feet. " Unless the church can speak these words, not as the scribes and Pharisees uttered them, but with the very voice of Him who taught with authority, anything else it says will be an impertinence.

Many of the words the church knows by rote are tragically inadequate to this need. The hollow tinkle of irrelevant commonplaces, metallic as a Swiss music box, will not perform the miracle. The church has often been a mere Cave of Echoes, amplifying the desires of the ruling powers in the economic world. It has too often spoken with the harsh, barking voice of a military drill master, calling from the altar, "Forward, march" even when the destination was hell itself.

None of these languages, nor yet the stage whispers of futile ceremonialism, will keep men on their feet. "Lord, to whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life."