Cussing is for the mature

I have a little saying that goes like this, “Cussing is for the mature.”

I don’t mean it as a joke. Nor do I mean that adults should freely cuss. Rather, it is a specific example of a general pattern I see throughout the Bible, that of a movement from immaturity to maturity, from childhood to adulthood. And one of the key differentiators between childhood and adulthood in the Bible is one’s relationship to one’s tutor, the law.

Is a curfew a good thing? Absolutely… for a child. It could be a disaster for an adult with the responsibilities of an adult. An adult who has not absorbed the lesson of the curfew, who has not learned the lesson from his childhood, is probably an unwise adult. But an adult who remains under the tutelage and dominance of such a rule isn’t fully an adult.

I do not allow my children to cuss. And I aspire to have them learn the lesson of that law by the time they grow to adulthood, at which point I hope they are wise in their speech. But I would be appalled if they thought they were still under my rule, with their conscience bound to never cuss. The point of the rule is to teach maturity. The rule is a tutor for the child. But as adults, if, for instance, one of my sons was married and dealing with another man who was rude to his wife, I would expect him to consider very strong language in his rebuke of that man. I would expect him to cuss appropriately.

In general, rules should become tools in the hands of the wise as a person grows up. But the train comes off the tracks when adults exalt the rule (or process, or program) above the person. Doing so dehumanizes everyone involved. Think of a church program that becomes the end in and of itself, rather than a tool in the hands of the church to help people. When tools enslave their master, the master becomes a child, which is just backwards. And it does more or less the opposite of what the Bible tells us we should be about. As Colossians 1:28 says, our goal is to present everyone mature in Christ. Yet when we enslave adults to the rules of childhood, we put them at risk to remain immature.

Likewise, however, an adult who casts off the lessons of his tutelage is a fool. The point is maturity, not liberty from constraints. The goal is mature, wise speech, not cussing.

There are limits to this approach which I hope are self-evident. I do not mean to imply that adults should set aside prohibitions against murder, adultery, lying, etc. But even here there is some room for the wisdom of maturity. Once again, my children are not to lie, yet I hope they have the good sense (and am trying to actively teach them this) as they get older to lie to a potential kidnapper.

4 Comments

  1. Peter
    Oct 24, 2007

    It’s interesting how just about all profanity is somehow grouped under the label of “taking the Lord’s name in vain”, as if that were the point of the commandment.

  2. Jay
    Oct 24, 2007

    Now that you mention it, it is also interesting how our culture has tried to turn just about every form of God’s name into a curse. Sort of a literal fulfillment of Job’s wife’s admonition.

    Lest there be any confusion, in this post I had in mind strong language that was not of the “curse God and die” variety.

  3. jennifer
    Oct 24, 2007

    This is an interesting post. The topic of “bad words” comes up regularly in our house, partly because we made lots of words “bad” from the get go. But lately, we’ve talked about what the real meaning of the commandment. Mark has preached on this, and Jeff just did this past Sunday. I think the idea is that maturity in the faith equals bearing the name of Christ well.

  4. Jay
    Oct 25, 2007

    Oddly enough, Jennifer, I think I’ve heard Jeff preach that sermon. He did pulpit supply for David Wakeland’s church in Houston back in 1993 (he and David had different worship times and would cover for each other). And he preached the “Third Word” sermon. It was a big influence on me, really made an impression.