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If I were to ask you what are the necessary components of a properly functioning society, what would you say? You might suggest that communication, collaboration, and interaction are all necessary to keep a civilization functional. However, imagine a world in which its inhabitants communicate in a rather unusual way. Instead of having a coherent conversation using a universally accepted vocabulary, people just utter random sounds, expecting others to know what they intend to say. What a mess that would be! Perhaps someone who says, “muzzle-bubble dipplestick!” is trying to tell you not to drink that glass of iced tea because it has been laced with arsenic. Regretfully, because you have no idea what that person is trying to communicate, you take a sip and within minutes, you are dead! I can hear someone objecting. “Tuh…! That’s ridiculous! That could never happen!” However, our society is closer to that form of behavior than you might think.

To illustrate how the attitudes of today’s society are steering us toward just such a dilemma, let me cite an example from the famous book, Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. Pay attention to Alice’s dialog with Humpty Dumpty over the meaning of the word glory:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,”’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t— till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,”’ Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master - that’s all.”

Humpty Dumpty’s attitude closely mirrors (no pun intended) that of modern society. Words only mean what we choose them to mean. I am the “master” of words, not vice versa. I can attribute meaning to a particular word to fit my purpose at the moment. Today, the redefinition of words such as marriage, for instance, can have far reaching consequences. Once society accepts the arbitrary redefinition of such a word, one can become an outcast for standing by the original meaning.

I believe the driving issue behind this attitude is idolatry. A word’s meaning carries a sense of authority. And society objects because, “someone other than me has unfairly and selfishly determined what something means without consulting me!” The objective definition of a word is bigger than the individual. It implies that one is not free to change the definition just because that person happens to disagree with it. However, an aggressive and vocal minority within society has banded together, “brothers in arms.” They have organized a coup to overthrow the oppressive restraints of definition. If words carry no weight, the restrictions they impose on humanity are lifted. Success in redefining objective definitions simply fuel the illusion that these rebels are the masters; they are their own god. It always gets back to the garden, doesn’t’ it? We have the relentless desire to be what we can never be.

However, this is a useless exercise. The fact that people try to redefine what cannot be redefined doesn’t change reality. I love Psalm 2 where David describes the arrogance of man attempting to overthrow God’s authority:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who visits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Psalm 2:1-6 (ESV)

Imagine a child telling his mother, “I don’t have to obey you anymore because ‘mommy’ now means ‘my slave!’ You have to do what I say!” How do you think a responsible mother would respond? Well, if she is anything like my mother, she would grab me by the hair and say something like, “You gotta do what I say because I’m your mother!” If you notice, the mother completely ignores the child’s ridiculous definition. She continues to make him obey because his redefinition means nothing. Definitions of words are as they are because God sets the boundaries by which words are defined. Words carry weight because they are the means by which God has established His authority.

So, the next time someone tries to assign a new meaning to a word, challenge them. You can get out your dictionary and Bible and say, “Did God sanction that redefinition? Nope? Didn’t think so.”

- Jordan McGehee