How important is getting the words exactly right?

How important is getting the words exactly right? On Tuesday in front of over a million witnesses on the National Mall (and tens of millions of observers nationally and globally) Chief Justice John Roberts of the United States Supreme Court administered the Constitution-mandated thirty-five word presidential oath of office to Barack Obama. The sun beamed down in all its glory in the chilled air. The tiered dignitaries and guests of state, along with the nation, held our collective breath for that carefully choreographed and historic moment.

The oath of office is: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." But when the Chief Justice recited the oath for Obama to repeat, Roberts inadvertently transferred the word “faithfully” to the end of the clause and substituted the word “to” in “of the United States.” Who doesn’t understand the nervous energy that would be flowing mightily at that moment? “Constitutional law experts agree that the flub is insignificant. Yet two previous presidents—Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur—repeated the oath privately because of similar issues” (South Bend Tribune 1-21-09). If that were the case this time, then the public never witnessed the actual constitutionally-correct swearing in on Tuesday!

But really, two little words—what’s the big deal! In the grand scheme of things, those transpositions won’t make an iota of difference, to be sure. But in the great and cosmic war described by Holy Scripture, words make all the difference in the world. All he did—“that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9)—was insert a single word, twisting God’s warning, “you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), into Satan’s deception, “you will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). One small word—but its injection has reaped a baleful harvest of deception and woe, as the ensuing deaths of Eve and Adam and an entire human race have more than proven.

Words matter. But none more than the three words of the promise: “Whoever has the Son has life” (I John 5:12). “Has the Son”—do you? We’ve cheered a new leader into office this week. But it is the divine Leader who alone can save the human race. Having the Son means choosing the Lifegiver—and choosing Christ daily is daily choosing eternal life as our destiny. Yes, we’ll all die one day. But as “The Truth about Death” (the podcast miniseries at this website) makes dramatically clear, for the one who “has the Son” death is but a momentary sleep from which we’ll be awakened at the resurrection. And that’s a word worth getting right, right now!

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