James is talking about the way we use our speech to bad-mouth each other. He dissects a curious piece of hypocrisy here: we bless God, and yet curse each other. And then he adds: “This should not be.” The point he is making is tucked away in the subordinate clause: these human beings whom we have chosen to dismiss “have been made in God’s likeness.” As have we. We all have God as “Our Father.” So we belong together.
I remember a masterly put-down by Jimmy Carr. He said: “I’m not being condescending. I’m too busy thinking about far more important things you wouldn’t understand.” Such a great line from a very gifted comedian. But the comedy derives from its truthfulness. It’s how we all act, think and occasionally speak. We divide. We put down. We discriminate. We gossip and slander without batting an eyelid.
James challenges this head on: “People,” he says, “were made in the image of God:” so to slander one another is to slander God: to love what is good in man is to love it in God. Love is the only remedy for slander: no set of rules or restrictions can stop it; we may denounce, but we shall denounce in vain. The radical cure of it is love-“out of a pure heart and faith unfeigned,” to feel what is great in the human character; to recognize with delight all high, and generous, and beautiful actions; to find joy even in seeing the good qualities of your bitterest opponents, and to admire those qualities even in those with whom you have least sympathy, this is the only spirit which can heal slander and gossip. If we would bless God, we must first learn to bless man, who is made in the image of God.
James says something interesting here: he notes that this is natural. It is natural for fresh water to flow from a fresh spring, and for a fig tree to produce figs. Anything else is unnatural. My tongue is intended to bless! Imagine that!
Of course, words have immense power. If you don’t believe me, try saying the words “I think I have head lice” at a crowded party.
And by the same token, my words can create life, hope…even joy. It’s a totally natural healing process. It’s what my tongue was created for.