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Verbal Inflation

The term ‘verbal inflation’ is not new with me (you can find several articles about it on Google). Inflation at its simplest is: the more money you print, the less each currency unit is worth. When this idea is attached to our spoken words, an interesting phenomenon arises: When our Lord said in Matthew 5.37 to ‘let our yea (yes) be yea, and our nay (no) be nay, and anything beyond these is evil,’ He was counteracting verbal inflation of the day. In context we see He was railing against those who uttered increasingly flamboyant and hyperbolic oaths to make up for a lack of character. A person’s character should be so rock solid that a person’s ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is taken at face value. If one’s character is in doubt, that person often invokes some grand phrase such as “on my father’s grave I swear to you that." to give the impression he is trustworthy. Verbal inflation continues expanding into the spoken stratosphere to where no one believes the claim no matter how grandiose or embellished the oath.

Today verbal inflation has gone into hyper-drive. We have abandoned covering up character deficiencies, undesired behavior, and even blatant sin by declaring a grand phrase (I swear x, y, z that I’m telling you the truth). Now each person “prints” his own “verbal currency” by declaring whatever he/she is at the moment and whatever he/she is feeling, thinking, doing, or intends to do as the truth. Reality TV shows are anything but real; people caught on tape or video deny their words or actions and choose to believe themselves as generators of truth instead of being beholden to it. This develops into a wickedly slick spiral where one’s trust in anything or anyone erodes as the truth claims have no basis in anything other than one’s own hyper-inflated words. I keep a German Marks currency with a billion (with a ‘B’) German Marks on it printed during the weak 1930’s Weimar republic period of hyperinflation; during that historical period that bill would barely buy a load of bread. Our words are becoming likewise.

We have lost our ability to discern truth and falsehood. Our hyper-inflated words have caused us to lose faith in anyone’s claims, and therefore a corresponding experience of erosion in our faith in our lawmakers, our law interpreters, or any institution touting access to the truth (including churches for some). Our society feels they have no choice but to become laws unto ourselves. Does this sound familiar? (Judges 17.6; 21.25)

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon decries all as vanity (futile), which sounds horribly depressing until we discover a key phrase recurring throughout the book---“under the sun.” As long as the standards for anything are earth-based, they wind up becoming inflated as to their true worth and ultimately have no worth; he correctly recognizes this in 5.1-7 and concludes in chapter 12 that our standards must be God-based first and last. (he described it more plainly in Prov. 16.2 and 21.2). In the NT Jesus declares that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

He is to be our standard. Next time you are claiming something is the best, the worst, the biggest, the nth degree of anything, pause and see if your ‘yea or nay’ have become more than ‘yea or nay.’ (I feel an old spiritual coming on. . .) “In the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.”

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