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Sometimes the work of a reporter feels like something akin to an iceberg. I don’t mean work that’s cold, isolated, and potentially destructive, though journalism apart from heart and humility can become just those things.
Instead, I’m thinking of how much work is unseen. Most of the work that readers see from journalists is the tip of a giant mass of unseen thoughts, phone calls, site visits, emails, reading, conversations, ponderings, and (for a Christian reporter) praying. It’s all below the surface, and if we discover there’s no story, it’s possible none of it sees the light of day.
I sometimes see one of my stories in print, and can’t believe how much work it took to produce that little collection of 1,800 words. And sometimes I’m chagrined that, no matter how many times I checked, one (or more) of those words is incorrect.
The amount of detail required in accurate reporting can be overwhelming. It’s the nature of the job—just like a thousand other jobs that require precision—so it’s not grounds for complaining. But in recent years I’ve begun to think of it as cause for wonder.
In moments when I feel ground down by how much time I can spend making sure the wording in a single sentence is correct (and sometimes still come up short), I’ve begun to think about a verse from Proverbs 30: “Every word of God proves true. …”
Do we grasp how astounding this is?
In a culture blazing full of nonstop tweets, news feeds, blog posts, podcasts, and television hosts saying so many words that we’re often not sure what’s true anymore, it’s awe-inducing to consider: Every word of God proves true.
It sets a high standard for our own speech: We should strive to speak only truthful words, and to speak them in love. That takes a lot of work, and we often fail.
But the second half of the verse in Proverbs also adds a comfort: “He is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”
When our words are either sinful or mistaken, the God of perfect truth is also a God of grace to those who seek Him in Christ. The difficulty of speaking true words—and the regret of speaking untrue or unkind ones—should cause us to stand in awe of a God whose words are always true, and who forgives us when ours fail again.
The Proverbs are full of warnings about words, including many admonitions to just shut up sometimes. There’s a time to speak and a time to be silent. Wisdom requires knowing the time, or at least trying to make the distinction.
Every torrent of words flowing online doesn’t require a response, even if it seems urgent in the moment and everyone else is commenting. Other times, it’s unwise to stay quiet.
How do we decide?
Often case by case, both in journalism and everyday life, but here’s a template I find helpful from another verse in Proverbs: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Are my words aimed at inflicting another blow, or are they aimed at promoting the good of others, even when it requires saying hard things? That’s another high standard we often miss, but one that will bring us closer to becoming like Christ, who lived a perfect life in a time just as sinful as ours.
I’m convicted even as I think about it, but I’m glad to know this: God had the first word, as He spoke the world into existence, and He will have the final word, when His Son—the Word made flesh—returns to judge the earth and make all things new, including our patterns of speech.
I’m glad those words are true.