I don’t care what Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says, “gift” is not a verb. When I hear someone talk about gifting something, I want nothing more than to make them a gift of The Elements of Style and smack them upside the head with it.
I recently discovered that while I have been defending the world against the scourge of nouns-as-verbs, they have quietly made their way into the dictionary. I refuse to acknowledge or acquiesce to such barbarism. In the spirit of the times, I am declaring:
I vow to preach the gospel of #neveraverb as long as I have breath. In the words of Martin Luther, patron saint of resisters, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”
At the heart of my resistance — of all resistance — is the belief that I know better than The Authority I’m resisting. My defiance denies the authority’s moral, legal, academic or spiritual legitimacy in favor of my own. Now, resistance can be a principled, brave opposition to an obvious wrong. (Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Wilberforce or Martin Luther KIng, Jr.) It can also be petulant, obstinate and self-aggrandizing, like my linguistic jihad against verbified nouns.
If it were only a matter of grammar, I could chalk it up to a charming quirk. But I fear this rebellious streak goes far beyond the Word Wars.
If resistance is substituting my own judgment for an authority’s then I am guilty of resisting God. You probably are, too. It’s OK, we come by it honestly. We inherited it from Adam and Eve.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6)
In other words, God said “No”, but I know better.
She knows God has prohibited it; she says as much to the serpent. But she rationalizes her rebellion. It looks good, it probably tastes good. It will make me wise, and what could be wrong with that? Why wouldn’t a loving God want me to have it?” (By the way, I think this last is one of the most dangerous questions we can ask. For one thing, it assumes that if God loves us, He will give us our every desire, even if that contradicts His will and His word. For another, it often precedes an argument that ends in “I know that’s what He said, but He didn’t mean it that way.”)
Eve and Adam’s rebellion — and ours — is rooted in the desire to be the judge of what is good and what is not. Their desire has convinced them that they can ask God to scooch over so they can share His throne.
This is why our resistance hero Martin Luther famously wrote that the root of all sin is idolatry. We never break any commandment without having first broken the first: “You shall have no other gods before me.” After all, once that is abrogated, then the absolute moral authority that undergirds the rest of the commandments becomes just another voice in the din of relativism. And all the while we pile up one rationalization after another for why this is all perfectly fine and God is cool with it.
From that day in the garden to this day at my desk, people have struggled with the radical claim on our hearts and our heads of that first commandment.
1. There is one God, and it’s not me.
2. God alone has claim to all authority and truth.
3. When God’s word is clear, but I think I know better, see #1
When it comes to words, I cling to the notion that I know better than the dictionary. I suppose there is no real harm to this, unless you happen to be on the receiving end of one of my tirades.
But when it comes to God, my resistance reveals a dangerous idolatry.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus asks a haunting question:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)
Why indeed.Follow In Ordinary Time
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