At the risk of losing whatever few cool points I have left, I’ll admit that recently I was listening to an NPR podcast. The hosts were offering cultural commentary on the phenomenon known as “upspeak.” I had never heard the term but I realized that I’m familiar with it. This is speech that ends with a rising inflection, as if a grammar fairy stole the period at the end of your sentence and replaced it with a question mark. They were noting the popularity of upspeak among the younger generation, particularly popular with younger females. I’m not offended by upspeak, but I am left wondering if you are making a statement or asking a question.? (See what I did there?)
While an interesting cultural movement, upspeak is relatively insignificant in my world. But could this cultural phenomenon be somehow paradigmatic of the human condition? Our culture loves to replace a period with a question mark. Sinful humans love to turn clear propositional truth into ambiguous relativity.
This is a master technique by the enemy. While I can’t prove the serpent was the original upspeaker, he sure used the technique masterfully. In the famous encounter with our first parents, the serpent shifts the conversation from declarative to interrogative. His response to the loving declaration from God is to ask an insidious question. The Fall narrative from Genesis shows the subtle yet maniacal ploy to erode the surety of the Word of God.
God clearly tells Adam:
 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden. but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
But the usurping upspeaker asks Eve the question:
…“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
God DID clearly say, but the serpent clouds what was clear. The serpent not only questions the statement, he minimizes their God given privilege. God never said they could not eat of *any* tree, in fact God said they could eat of all but one tree “surely” or better understood, “freely.” The serpent’s undermining work is well underway.
Eve responds to the serpent relaying her version of God’s command,
…“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ’You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” (Genesis 3:2-3)
Whether intentional or not, Eve does not represent God correctly when she responds to the serpent. Eve tells the serpent they could eat, but interestingly, she does not say they can eat “freely.” Eve’s misrepresentation offenses are worse than the omission of an adverb. Perhaps as a fence to protect the fence, Eve tells the serpent that God had instructed them not only to refrain from eating but also, “neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” That’s not actually what God said. God said not to eat, he did not say do not touch. Principles of wisdom may dictate that it’s a good idea not to touch it either, but that’s not what God said.
Isn’t this a perfect picture of the human heart? We love rules that protect the rule. We use this with our kids. If I don’t want my young kids to walk in the street, I may tell them do not step on the sidewalk. This creates a buffer zone from the danger. While this may be wise parenting, we have to be careful when we talk about the commandments of God that we aren’t subtly adding a layer of restriction on his actual command. This is similar to the pharisaical system which created ambiguity on what God’s Word says to the point that we are in danger of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (Mark 7:7, cf. Isaiah 29:13)
Of course, we know the rest of the story of the Fall. Eve takes and eats the fruit and gives it to her husband. Adam eats it also. When confronted with their disobedience, blame shifting ensues. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. God offers a sacrifice. And thus the story of sin and atonement takes shape, a pattern that is repeated many times over in the Bible until the ultimate sacrifice is made.
This mess all started with clouding the clarity of God’s spoken word. We are facing unprecedented cultural shifts in our generation. We can look back and easily see how this storm formed. When ambiguity replaces clarity, conviction gives way to capitulation. Is it any wonder that the denominations who lost clarity on inerrancy were the first to redefine and confuse gender roles? Unsurprisingly, these denominations were the first to make peace with the LGBT cultural buzz saw. Once clarity is lost on what the Word is, clarity is lost on what the Word teaches. When doctrine becomes personal rather than propositional, resolve to stand against a cultural deluge is hard to find.
How can we put some ballast in our bellies to stand strong in a hostile world? Let me offer a simple encouragement. Commit to learn, understand, and digest the Word of God. Clarity brings conviction.