Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Power of Your Words

In 2003 I read a powerful novel by my friend Nancy Rue titled Pascal’s Wager. The book takes place in modern times on the campus of Stanford University, which I know well, since I received a certificate from the Stanford Mass Media Institute in film in 1983.

As I read her novel, Nancy’s words transported me twenty years into the past, and I walked the campus along with her characters. I remembered my experiences there as though they had happened yesterday: sitting in a booth sipping coffee, the smells in the antiseptic halls of the medical center, the soaring architecture of the buildings, a forest of eucalyptus trees.

The novel so inspired my friend and author Gwen Ellis and I that we adapted the book into a screenplay, which has never been produced, but our faith and friendship deepened as we worked on the script. The words of Nancy’s book had power to move us to action.

Why did Nancy title her book Pascal’s Wager? For that matter, what is Pascal’s Wager? How did Pascal’s words shape society’s dialogue about the existence of God?

Blaise Pascal was a 17th-century French mathematician, who had a mystical experience of Christ that caused him to give up his mathematical pursuits and instead live his life drawing closer to God through philosophy and theological studies. Basically, Pascal’s Wager is this:

Even though man cannot prove the existence of God through reason and science, a person should toss the dice and wager that God exists. If God doesn’t exist, the person has lost nothing; if God does exist, the person has won eternal life. (See Note 233 of his work titled Pensées written in the latter part of his life as he worked on a treatise of Christian apologetics.)

How does Pascal’s Wager relate to the power of our written words? Pascal, a mathematician, had his life planned out, but his encounter with the living Christ changed him forever. He wrote words that have lasted for centuries. Nancy Rue’s words moved at least two people to action. Your words matter too. What will they accomplish?

Here’s what Pascal wrote about the power of words:
“Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful. Kind words also produce their image on men’s souls; and a beautiful image it is. They smooth, and quiet, and comfort the hearer.”
Your words have power. Let them inspire and comfort your readers.

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Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!


  1. Barbara, Thanks for reminding us of Pascal's Wager. I've used it at times in conversations with friends who are still seeking.
    Blaise Pascal is also a favorite of mine because he penned these words: "I've made this letter rather long, as I did not have the time to make it shorter." Sounds like he was also an editor.

  2. I would expect that of a mathematician. :)

    If you can find a copy of Pascal's Wager by Nancy Rue, I suspect you would enjoy it immensely. The famous mother is a researcher at Stanford working on stem cell researcher. Her daughter is a post-graduate student, and has been cut out of her mother's life. Her mother's friend, the head of the music department contacts the daughter and asks her to please check in on her mother. They believe she's become an alcoholic, but instead, she's developed some type of early dementia.

    For the rest of the book, as the daughter takes over care of the mother, she is searching for answers. Do people really have a soul, or is her mother just a mass of bone and blood that will die one day and be gone forever (her mother's belief). How the daughter finds her answers and connects with her mother makes for a wonderful read about the power of the human spirit when it is guided by God.

  3. In a world that seems to thrive on the negative side of almost everything, this message, in its simplicity, was very powerful. Thank you for posting, Barbara. It's easy to forget the power of our words, especially at heated moments. A good reminder when writing characters as well. Their words needs to pack POWER also.

  4. Copied the cold words quote and plan to hang it near where I write.

    Excellent reminder.

    I want to be risky with my words, while at the same time careful. God will need to walk me through that kind of tension.
    ~ Wendy

  5. First thing that came to mind--"May the words of my mouth (or pen) and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." Second thing that came to mind--Way to rock us with your words, Barbara!

  6. Barbara, just last week I purchased Pascal's Wager from Amazon to use in my spring class at Mount Hermon Writers Conference. Until I read your excellent column, I had forgotten I first heard of this book through you! Thank you for this added insight.

    Kay Marshall Strom

  7. What a good reminder about the power of our words!

  8. Pascal's wager makes sense to me. I loved Chip MacGregor's prayer at the ACFW conference. He said the Lord could have come as a beautiful symphony, but instead He came as The Word. What a privilege to work with words--the very essence of who Jesus is!

  9. I've always asked self-professing atheists if they realize there would be no moment of joy at the end of their lives to raise their fist and shout, "I was right!" There would just be darkness if their beliefs ending up being correct. Living a life without God is hopeless. So where is the benefit of unbelief?

    Barbara. I really am enjoying the direction of your BLOG which is taking us deeper and deeper in the heart of what we do and why we do it.

    Happy Birthday!

  10. Happy birthday. I had an appt with you at ACFW but couldn't make it because of so much family illness. I'm not familiar with the book you mention, but Nancy Rue's name gets my attention. I'm enjoying the Sullivan Crisp series. Healing Stones is a page turner. Smart, terribly imperfection Christians who must rely on God's grace. Sorry I didn't get to meet you, but I hear you are coming to Florida soon.

  11. Hi dear readers,

    Thanks for the birthday wishes and your terrific comments! I will be presenting the Spring 2013 list to Pub Board on Tuesday, so I haven't been as diligent about getting over here to comment. I'm glad I could help you discover Nancy Rue, a terrific author. She read the blog and your comments, but when she tried to leave one, the system wouldn't let her. LOL Neither of us is a techie.

    It's interesting where the Lord has taken me in the last couple of postings. I had intended to explain more about the publishing process, but obviously, He had something else in mind: reminding us of why we write and the power of words spoken in truth.

    Thanks for joining the conversation!