Grandpa and grandma had quarrelled. Grandpa was so furious that he refused to talk to grandma. While grandma had forgiven and forgotten about it, grandpa wouldn’t utter a word. Nothing grandma said or did would break his silence. Finally, she began rummaging in his cupboards and drawers. Grandpa could stand it no longer. “What the hell are you looking for?” he barked. “Praise God!” she exclaimed, “I’ve found it!” and added, sweetly, “Your tongue!”
The Bible says lots about the human tongue. Four groups of meanings are predominant: (a) as an organ of speech; (b) by metonymy, for “language” used by the tongue; (c) by extension, to denote the whole person or personal traits; and (d) to indicate tongue-shaped objects. Let’s examine these usages.
First, in a biblical letter, St. James cautions us about the use of our tongues for loose talk. He writes: “Just as a whole forest can be destroyed by a small fire, so the tongue is a fire that can stain the whole body.” He continues, “All beasts can be tamed; but how difficult it is to tame the tongue! It is a restless evil, deadly poison.” He commends wise people who use their tongues “to praise God and bless others”.
Second, tongue refers to language. Unlike India, which is multi-lingual, most nations are delineated along linguistic boundaries. Their citizens are “of one tongue”. Indeed, the word “lingual” derives from the Latin lingua, meaning “tongue”. The biblical “speaking in tongues” means “speaking many languages”. Glossolalia is the “gift of tongues” — a gift of God’s Spirit — whereby prophets speak many languages, sometimes unintelligible to others. By truthfully interpreting such tongues, one discerns what God plans as good for us.
Third, tongue can denote the whole person or personality types. Of arrogant and boastful people it’s said, “Their tongue struts through the earth.” The psalmist writes: “Your tongue plots destruction; it is like a sharp razor, you who practice deceit. O deceitful tongue!”
Finally, the Bible refers to “tongues of fire”, “tongues of gold” and “tongues of the sea” when speaking of tongue-shaped objects. The spit of land protruding into the Dead Sea was simply called “the Tongue”.
The Bible says: “The tongue speaks of the fullness of the heart.” Though our words might be aimed at abusing others, they actually rebound on ourselves and reveal our own bad character.
Recently, political, electoral and legal tongues, worldwide, have been waxing eloquence on topics like sedition, perdition, infiltration, filtration nationalism, patriotism and the like. Given the fires, poisons and lies that are being heaped on us, wouldn’t it be blissful if they “lose” their tongues, like grandpa, rather than letting their “loose” tongues turn our heavenly homelands into hell?