I don’t know how you answer the phone, but generally I say, “Hello,” or “Good Morning (Afternoon, Evening).” Sometimes, when I do the Good Afternoon routine there’s a pause at the other end until someone timidly asks,
“Is this a business?”
But most of the time, people respond favorably, and then say “Hello,” or “Good Morning” back, and we move on with the conversation.
So I was a bit non-plussed recently when I called someone and they answered, “God Bless You!”
Honestly, I hadn’t sneezed. And I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed — do I say, “Um, Well God Bless You to You Too!” or would “Hello” do? The latter seems lame, somehow, but it’s pretty much the default that came to me after a pause on my part long enough to become embarrassing.
In another conversation, with another person, and in person, the interaction ended with, not “See you later,” or, “Good-bye,” but my favorite phrase to NOT be used as a greeting or departure, “Jesus LOVES You!”
This one always flummoxes me. I mean, as a Christian, I KNOW that Jesus loves me, and when people toss it off as a salutation or valediction, I never know whether they are informing me of the fact — convinced that I don’t know it — or reminding me, because I’ve forgotten somehow — or trying to convert me, because I come across as a heathen — or not caring at all what my spiritual state is because what matters is to get the name of Jesus in there somehow, regardless of what the listener thinks. If I didn’t know Jesus, and indeed, if my experience with Him through the people who profess Him were not especially positive, how would “Jesus Loves You!” come across?
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the apostle Paul talks about how he adjusts his behavior, speech, and words in accordance with the person to whom he is talking — to a Jew he becomes as a Jew, to a person not under the law as a person not under the law, in short, becoming “all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
An intelligent and knowledgeable man, Paul was also wise, a crucial element that allows us to use whatever intelligence and knowledge we have been given, and he realized that the message of Christ, and God’s love, is so important, that it’s worth thinking about how we give it.
In the same way that it does little good to a Greek to call upon Jewish law, it’s meaningless to an atheist, or an agnostic, to be quoted Scripture. And if our intent and hope is to show God’s love to those people who don’t know or understand it, wouldn’t it be wise to consider how our words and actions impact others, before we say or do them? (And as an aside, when we are interacting with total strangers, automatically assuming that they are not Christian, or that they do not care about God at all, is rather offensive.)
Now of course, we can get paranoid about this, and we do, in our culture (it’s called political correctness), parsing words to such a point that we say nothing because we’re so afraid of offending. So it doesn’t mean that we eliminate the words “God,” “Jesus,” and “The Lord,” from our vocabulary, but it does mean that we 1) don’t used them in the place of punctuation, and 2) are not obligated to insert them in an unnatural fashion in our speech (“Praise JESUS that these socks are on sale!”)
The message is crucial, and it’s a good one: Jesus DOES love us, but many people have heard the words so often, words not sufficiently backed by action to be believable, that the sentence becomes meaningless.
Not a good thing.
To read more on this subject, please click the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Please, Think Twice about Passing out the Bible Tract.