July 7, 1992
“Use action verbs. Passive verbs drain energy out of your readers. Keep the story moving...”
This is typical stuff stressed at the writers’ conference I attended in Toronto last month. We were repeatedly reminded that passive verbs are no-no’s; active verbs give interest to the story, keep it moving and produce more vivid visual images. One example of passive voice is: The dog was injured by the boy. Put it in active and you have: The boy kicked the dog.
When I went to school, verbs were defined as words that describe both action and state of being. This definition implies that nouns (such as people) could not only DO something but BE something. The definition may still stand, but the emphasis is definitely on the action aspect. Some person has even formed a society in which the members are determined never to use any form of the verb to be. It makes me wonder if being is somehow a no-no and doing is the only possible choice.
I could not help but draw a connection between this literary principle and some theological beliefs. For instance, many people tend to think that the only way anyone can gain favor with God is by doing something. That is, most religious systems stress the same inclination for action in regard to God as writing instructors have in regard to verbs. That the two ideas run parallel suggests humans find doing far easier to get a handle on than being.
The list of deeds acceptable to God differs depending on which group defines the standards. Some would call themselves “Christian” and include baptism, or church membership or tithing (giving 10% of one’s earnings to the “church”). Those not into religious activities include in their lists activities such as be kind to animals and donate to charity. Most would include actions like love one another and take care of the sick, maybe even pay your taxes.
A few frame their activity list in a more negative vein — if you would please God, you must NOT do certain things. Their lists would have a whole raft of don’ts rather than do’s, taking potshots at smoking, drinking, immoral behavior, and a few peripherals such as nail polish, dancing, eye-shadow and chewing tobacco.
Before saying anything else, I want to affirm that God IS interested in what we do. Both the Old and New Testament are crammed full of commands and expected behavior because God does not, in the name of grace, grant us the liberty of doing whatever we please expecting Him to simply excuse it.
However, there is a definite difference in doing and being in the Bible. For one thing, it says we must BE something before we can DO anything that pleases God. That is, before our actions give Him pleasure, our state of being must be changed. Put another way, the old saying, you cannot get blood out of a stone restated in theological terms is: no one can produce right behavior out of a sinful heart.
That is why God can say “All your righteousness is like filthy rags.” He was talking about the deeds that come from unregenerate people. What is needed is a new life that begins on the inside, a life that starts when individuals are forgiven, cleansed of their sin, and filled with the Holy Spirit. This is something we cannot do but must allow God to do, even inviting Him because we realize our inadequacy and sin. That is the being aspect of pleasing God, being new creatures living under a new Master.
This change in our state of being results in having the will and capacity to do right because from the moment we believe, we are able to allow our action verbs to be governed by the One who simply IS.