I worked at a wonderful camp one summer that specialized in inner-city youth, Kids Across America. At that time, it was all the rage for the guys to refer to each other as “dogs”. “What’ up, dog?!” “Naw, dog.” (That’s “No, dog” for those of you who don’t read things with a southern twang.) “Come on, dog.” You get the picture. I never really thought twice about it—it was just the term of the day—so it surprised me a bit when the leadership took a strong stand against it that summer. It’s not like they were calling each other bad names, really. It was just a nickname, right? So why the offense?
I learned a lot that summer, but one lesson that really impacted me was the idea that words mean something. NAMES mean something. We may think it’s just a harmless word, but are words really all that harmless? The world was created with a word. Words are pregnant with creative power…and with destructive power. Remember James’ admonition about the power of our tongue to speak life or death, to create or destroy (chapter 3)? The power is in the tongue because the tongue speaks words. How can we doubt their power when we read what John writes—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1)? Words were here before we were. And just as we are made in God’s image but are not God, words we speak are also a reflection of the Word, but not Him.
Words are powerful and therefore names are powerful. Names are the labels we put on people. This is why the Lord so often gives someone a new name. He wants them to be known for something new, something different, something better than they were known for before. He renames people because sometimes they need to see themselves differently. He gives people a new name so that they will know how HE sees them.
If God thinks words and names are so important, is it any surprise then, that Satan might feel the same? Is it any wonder that Satan is out to give us destructive names and to speak condemning, shaming, harmful words over us? If we just start with recognizing the power in names and the fact that both the Lord and Satan are out to name us (for better and for worse), we will likely start to notice things we missed before. Like “dog.”
As one of our amazing leaders, Rene Rochester pointed out, dogs are not created in God’s image. Dogs don’t have a moral accountability. And more specifically to a huge issue in the inner-city, dogs mate anywhere and anytime with anyone, without any sense of responsibility for the offspring. This is not God’s plan for man. MAN is made in God’s image and has the ability to choose to rise above his “primal” or “animal” instincts and behave better, with character and integrity and holiness, in every area of his life, certainly including his sexuality and paternal responsibility. Calling each other dogs may seem harmless enough, but it’s low. At best, it offers no inspiration, no challenge to grow, to rise above. At worst, it gives men the freedom (and even encourages them) to think and act like dogs rather than the glorious creation in God’s image that God intended.
Sound like I’m overstating the case? Let me remind you of a few name changes in the Bible.
God changed Abram’s “high father” name to “Abraham,” “father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5) and his wife’s name from “Sarai,” “my princess,” to “Sarah,” “mother of nations” (Genesis 17:15). We know from history that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah formed many nations, including the Jews’ and Muslims’. God changed Jacob’s “supplanter” name to “Israel,” “having power with God” (Genesis 32:28). He changed Simon’s “God has heard” name to “Peter,” “rock” (John 1:42).
One of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Isaiah 62 speaks repeatedly of God giving us a new name.
2 The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken,[a]
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,[b]
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,[c]
and your land Married;[d]
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married…
And they shall be called The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken
God gives us names that give us hope for our future, that inspire us to believe that He will do great things in us, that challenge us to live up to his beautiful idea of us.
That being said, I am concerned with another nickname I’m hearing repeatedly in the youth of today. This one makes my skin crawl a little more than the “dog” did, because it’s profanity to start with. The girls are calling each other “bitches” (excuse my French). First off, let’s just start with the fact that it’s not really culturally acceptable to use that term in public in the first place. But let’s get beyond that. It’s a curse word, a “vulgar slur for a female” (according to Wikipedia). It’s a word girls use to hurt someone (if the speaker wants to be mean) or to denounce someone’s bad behavior (if the other person is behaving meanly). It also means griping, moaning and complaining or can be used to describe a difficult or unpleasant situation or thing. The only truly acceptable (non-offensive) use of the word is when you’re talking about female dogs, which are technically called “bitches.” It literally has no positive use, and the one neutral-ish (technical) use brings us back to the start of this article, calling people dogs…animals…instead of man and woman, made in the image of God. (Not that anyone calls someone a b**** and actually, only, means female dog…but even still, that has its problems.)
It’s bad enough that we use this kind of language against each other in our anger (that’s speaking a word curse over someone, and shouldn’t be done—it’s not how Jesus would have us talk to each other), but perhaps even more perplexing and disturbing is this trend for girls to call their friends and bff’s “b****es.” “Hey, b****es!” “What’s up, b****es?!” What madness is this?! I know people will say it means nothing, but what happened to “Hey, ladies”?! Or “Hey, friends”? There are so many good terms we could choose from and we choose b****es?! Why??? Could it be that our enemy is trying to undermine our calling as women? That he is trying to belittle us and derail us from the idea God had when He made woman? Is it possible that the reason so many young girls are acting like b****es and being mean spirited and entitled and bullying each other is because they’ve been telling themselves that’s what they are?
What if we worked to change the language we use when we speak to each other? No doubt, many of you reading this are like me and have never used a word like that as a term of endearment. So, what can we do? In Isaiah 62, God doesn’t command the people to give themselves a new name, sometimes we can’t see ourselves better. No, HE initiates the name change. HE gives them a new name. He denounces the old names like “forsaken” and “desolate” and instead gives them new descriptors. Here are just a few of the beautiful words he uses for his people: righteous, glorious, beautiful, royal, delightful (My Delight Is in Her), Holy People, Redeemed, Sought Out, Not Forsaken.
I may not have ever called myself a b****, but I’ve worn plenty of unflattering names, some inflicted by others, others self-inflicted. Every time I read Isaiah 62, I raise my head a little. I think a little higher of myself and I feel a little more inspired to live up to God’s idea of me. Is He really delighted in me? Am I really not forsaken? Can I really be holy and righteous? Does God really see me that way and is He really making me more like that? There is power in what we say.
Perhaps it starts with seeing ourselves the way God sees us, changing the words we use when we think of ourselves. It needs to go further, however. We then need to not only pray that God helps us to see others the way He sees them, but we need to also speak that into them. We can do as God does and give people new names, better names. We can initiate that for them! What if we began to talk to others with these kinds of words and names of power, of love and tenderness and future glory? If hearing those beautiful words in Isaiah 62 makes me raise my head a little higher and act a little better, then couldn’t I expect it to have a similar effect on others if I were to speak those things over them? I can’t guarantee the effect it will have, but I do know that to do so is to live not as b****es, but to live as Christ, in the image of God, following His example.