Sticks and Stones

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21, NIV).

No doubt you have probably heard someone in authority tell you after someone said something mean to you, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me.” It turns out that this represents some of the dumbest and misguided counsel we could ever receive (or give). It is flawed from a Scriptural standpoint and, as it turns out, is also negated by scientific study.

According to a recent study by German psychologists at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, subjects were asked to read pain-related words while imagining situations that corresponded to each word and while scanning their brains using MRI technology. They were asked to repeat the procedure while being distracted by a brain-teaser. What did they find (yes they had brains)? The scientists discovered that the pain matrix in the brain (where the brain stores memories of past painful experiences) was activated by pain words in both instances, distracted or not. The study’s author, Maria Richter, noted that, “In both cases, we could observe a clear activation of the pain matrix in the brain by pain-associated words.”

We understand from the Word of God that words are powerful – they can impart life or death. Once again we see science backing up the integrity of the Word of God. Words are like vehicles or containers bringing things that hurt or things that heal into our hearts. The fact is, words, not just sticks and stones, can do major long-lasting emotional damage to people. True, words do not cause bone fractures or contusions like sticks and stones can, but they do cause soul fractures that can often take much more time to heal than our bones. Let’s all think about that the next time we open our mouths. Let’s consider the wise words of Solomon: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24, NIV).