There are certain words which leave no wiggle room. Everything, all, complete, impossible — just to name a few.
What does “all” mean? It doesn’t mean some, part, or even most. It means all. The same is true for everything. It’s either every thing or nothing (another one of those words that means what it means).
In addition to being certain, this kind of language is also direct.
If the teacher says that some kids in the classroom will be allowed to go on recess, the kid on the front row immediately begins wondering if he will be one of them. Pretty soon, he’s building a mental argument for why he should be one of them. But in the absence of certainty and directness, the mind wanders and tries to fill-in what is unknown — creating anxiety and wild imaginations.
If the teacher had simply said, “Everyone get ready for recess”, no one would be left wondering if they were included. The mental energy expended would be greatly reduced.
As one who studies communications, what I’ve noticed over the last ten or more years has been a reluctance to use concrete words. I believe this may be caused by one of several things:
- A lack of certainty and conviction on the part of the communicator.
- A desire to connect with as many people as possible, including those who disagree.
- A desire to show empathy with the audience or individual across the table.
- A growing relativism when it comes to matters of values, ethics, or morality.
From a communications standpoint, direct and certain will always be more powerful than indirect and uncertain. If you think of certainty as clarity, it is much easier to navigate a conversation (or talk) when the path is clear than unclear. Simple is more persuasive than complex.
Couples getting married often exchange wedding vows, including one that goes something like this: “I will be with you in sickness and in health.”
If one begins to try and define exactly what is meant by sickness and health, the intent of the vow is stripped of its power and meaning. It would be absurd to say, “I’m OK with including the common cold and sprained ankles, but I’m not sure I want to commit to any diseases or surgeries. I don’t think sickness includes car accidents.”
Just let sickness mean sickness and health mean health.
What makes Jesus so compelling (and, honestly, offensive to some) is how he spoke so directly. It’s true he spoke in parables that often had to be interpreted. But it’s just as true that much of his teaching was pretty straight-forward, direct, and concrete.
A good example of that is found in John 6:
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” – John 6:37-39
Where is the wiggle in never and none?
By cutting directly to the chase, Jesus framed the conversation on his own terms. If had said “might, maybe, or a few” the conversation would have immediately gone a different direction.
Let’s take a look at these two phrases one at a time.
Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
As I wrote in a previous post, the word “whoever” is another of those concrete, direct, no-wiggle words. It means that the invitation of Jesus is extended to any and all, regardless of who you are.
Regardless of race or gender, regardless of past experiences. The poor and the wealthy. The characteristics we use to describe and divide are not in the word “whoever.” It simply means who-ever.
When a person comes to Jesus, what does Jesus promise?
Let me digress a bit and make a theological comment. When it comes to the words of Jesus, I believe in taking Jesus at face value. There has been a modern movement over the last half century or more to redact and eliminate much of what Jesus actually said (think the Jesus seminar). The temptation has been to make Jesus’ words fit our understanding of what we think Jesus should have said.
Let’s just let Jesus say what he says. So, when a person comes to Jesus, what does Jesus promise?
To never drive them away. When a penitent person takes a step towards Jesus, the reflex of Jesus is to open his arms. And Jesus will do this every single time. How do we know that? He said he would never drive them away.
What does never mean? It means not ever, as in “it’s not ever going to happen.” Not even once.
Jesus will drive money-hungry people from the temple. Jesus will drive away religious leaders by challenging their hypocrisy and arrogance. But if there is even the slightest movement towards God within them, Jesus opens his arms. He welcomed into his midst priests and prostitutes.
The apostle Peter described the heart of God this way: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
As you may know, Peter is speaking from personal experience!
God does not want anyone to perish. This does not mean no one will perish. He is patient with us because it often takes us a while to admit our mistakes and change our course (repentance).
The promise of Jesus is that he will always respond favorably to the person who is honestly seeking him.
This is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me.
It’s hard to think of Jesus losing anything.
Jesus would make the perfect accountant. Of course, Jesus would make the perfect anything because he was perfect in all things. But if Jesus were reconciling a checkbook, there would be no doubt about it balancing — to the penny.
The will of God is that Jesus not lose anyone. In other words, what God wants is that whoever comes to Jesus not be lost.
This speaks to two very important truths about God: desire and ability.
For us humans, we often lack the ability to carry out what we desire. That is not true for God. What God desires — that no one be lost — Jesus has the ability to do. In plain terms, Jesus is trustworthy because he is capable.
So, what does none mean? It means unlike surveys and statistics, there is no margin of error with Jesus. None means no one. If Jesus lost a single person that God had given him, the above verse would not be true. If it were not true, it would be false and Jesus would be liar.
That’s how concrete and direct words work.