By Judy Brandon: Religion columnist
Words can be very destructive. Gossip can be devastating. James compares the tongue to a fire. He says, “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” (James 3:5) Put another way, gossip spreads like wildfire and is just as destructive.
Great lessons can be learned from the events of history and in turn we can relate those to spiritual truths. Take for example the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Several years ago, I saw a film on this disaster and I have never forgotten it.
During that time, Chicago was a flourishing, growing city. Yet on the night of October 8, 1871, many people’s lives were changed.
That night a small fire started. Varying stories have surfaced over the years but the most common say that the fire began when a cow owned by the O’Leary family kicked over a lantern in the barn. When the firefighters were summoned, they were sent to the wrong address, and consequently the fire gained momentum. Finally, the firefighters arrived and flames were already leaping to houses and sheds in the neighborhood. Then flames spread rapidly from block to block and section to section of the city.
After raging for 29 hours, the fire finally was brought under control but not before much of the city was destroyed. In the 73 miles burned, the assessed cost of destroyed property was set at $192 million. Three hundred people were killed and 100,000 people left homeless.
But the cost was far greater than the figures revealed. Many people who had lost their homes settled in parks and other areas. Because businesses were destroyed, food was scarce and the basic living supplies were meager.
How interesting that James compares the tongue to a raging fire, and he lived long before the Chicago fire.
Interesting parallels can be drawn. Chicago had no rain that summer, making everything vulnerable to fire.
The spiritual side to that is that people gossip because they are self-centered and they have ignored the biblical principle of self-control. Their lives are totally centered around their own welfare and anything that will promote self. The tongue is really the messenger of what is in the heart. What kind of heart would spread gossip? A dry, self-centered heart?
The documentary noted that on the night of the fire, the wind carried the flames throughout the city. Again on the human side, there are people who spread gossip just like the wind. The juicy information is carried over all town in a matter of minutes, leaping from one mouth to another.
Further, the city of Chicago did not have the mechanisms in place to keep a fire from spreading. What is the mechanism for preventing gossip? There are two. The gossiper has to have a change of heart, a conviction that what she is doing is wrong. Secondly, the hearer must put the fire of gossip out by not spreading it.
Finally the documentary summarized the terrible disaster by showing drawings of the plight of some of Chicago’s people after the fire. Some people’s homes were destroyed and many lost everything they ahead. There is still another parallel. Evil tongues and even innuendoes have burned many a good person. Lives have been ruined because of “tales” spread and carried from person to person.
I know that I have a tendency to get caught up in the news about other people. I realize that I have to make a change, as do all others who tend to listen and spread gossip. I am going to be really careful about what I choose to say and also what I choose to say.