Hell is a four-letter word. As a child in church, we weren’t permitted to utter it. “H-E-double-hockey-sticks,” was all that was permissible—and that was only when we were talking about the place of eternal fire and damnation (whoops! I don’t think we were allowed to say “damnation” either!)
Sometime in my early teens, the word “hell” became powerful when I used it. At first, I would only say “hell” to describe the place, but then I started using it as a swear word. It felt freeing! I was in Christian high school and I was cussing! Then I used other swear words like “damn” and a few I’m uncomfortable mentioning now. Behold the power of the tongue! Cursing was a secret adults didn’t want us kids to know about because it felt good. And bad. All at the same time.
There always existed this push and pull within me. I wanted to push the limits with my speech, get people to notice me, to sound like the rebel I thought I was, to use strong words to express my discontentment. I also wanted to pull back, to capture my tongue, to find more proper words to tell others how I felt. In truth, I wanted to use cuss words and serve God at the same time. I still do.
While some Christians feel just fine cussing up a storm, I can honestly admit that I am not one of those Christians. I still wince when others use foul language. I still wince when I use foul language. It is vulgar and classless; it is not polite and it doesn’t particularly honor God. I’m sure as thinking adults (and teens) we can all find better, more intelligent words to use.
But sometimes when I’m stuck in traffic, particularly forlorn, or just plain angry, nothing feels better than letting a string of expletives rip. Know what I mean? Then I feel better and worse, all at the same time.
I wish I could cuss without feeling guilty, without making my mom blush, but I just can’t. I wish I could listen to others cuss without batting an eye. I mean, it’s not like I don’t watch R-rated movies or listen to songs with a few choice words. I don’t cover my ears and run away screaming with someone lets loose a cuss. I just feel uncomfortable, and especially awkward in the presence of the F-bomb. Especially when I’m the one uttering it.
This seems like a silly thing to mention, especially in the context of all that is going on in the world, in my life, all around me. I mean, aren’t we past the discussion of cursing in the Church? We’re dealing with bigger things like homosexual marriage and ordaining female priests and whether or not Rob Bell is a Universalist, what does saying “hell” possibly mater?
It matters because when I was afraid to say hell as a child, I was in a place of reverence before God. I wasn’t scared of Him and I wasn’t scared of Jesus. I loved learning about the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and coloring pictures of Jesus in Sunday school. Life was much simpler when hell was a bad word. Somehow I wish I could go back to saying “H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks,” if only to recapture the gentle faith I had as a child.
That’s why it matters.
OK, readers, how do you feel about cussing? Was it easier for you when you were a child and weren’t supposed to cuss? Is it freeing? Are there times when only cursing will do?