The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, December 2, 2022

It’s Friday, December 2nd, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Merriam-Webster Releases Its Word of the Year — What Does the ‘Word of the Year’ Tell Us About History and Culture?

To be human is to be embedded in language, and that language is made up of words unless words really matter. Merriam-Webster for the last several years has had the habit at the end of the year of announcing the annual word of the year, and this year that word is gaslighting.

Words are important, and Christians understand the importance of words. Words do not always mean the same thing. In different context, words can be malleable, words can change over time. That can change over time by the way just in spelling. You look at an original printing of the King James Bible from 1611, you’re going to have some very interesting spellings, very divergent from what you would find in standard English today, and sometimes divergent from what you would find on another page of the King James Bible.

But as those Bible translators that produce to what is known in Britain as the authorized version and in the United States as the King James version as they indicated and underlined with words, the words are absolutely important. And when it comes to, for example, holy scripture, we’re talking about the claim that is very clear and essential to biblical authority and to understanding what the Bible is, that every word of the Bible is inspired and every word is fully inspired.

Thus Christians understand that words are of crucial importance. And so what about the word gaslighting? What does that tell us about our age? Well, for one thing, you could just dismiss it and say this is just basically an advertising or publicity ploy by Merriam-Webster. But I think there’s more to it than that. I think as you look at the annual list of the words that have been chosen, we’ll understand they are not just chosen in some subjective fashion.

As a matter of fact, the editors of the dictionary, and now it’s more commonly used as a website dictionary, the editors tell us that the word that is chosen is the word that stands out from all other words in terms of the increase in the amount of computer searches of that word done on the Merriam-Webster website. And that seems to be something that if not totally objective is at least pretty easily measurable. And that’s an interesting metric. It does turn out to be interesting. What word or words stand out from all the others in terms of what this year happened in searches over previous years?

So as you look at that list of words, let’s think of some of the interesting ones that have appeared in the past. Now, it strikes me looking at this list that much of it actually makes sense. You look at the early 21st century in the year 2003, the word was democracy. That means that people all over the world using this dictionary website, they were looking up the word democracy at rates that had not been experienced before, that has to tell you something about what’s going on, on the ground, so to speak, in terms of politics, governance, and yes, democracy in many nations of the world.

The word blog appeared in 2004, and of course it couldn’t have appeared much earlier than that because no one was talking about blogs until blogs existed. Integrity was evidently a big issue. And of course, the thing here to remember is that the words being looked up as if, what does this word actually mean? If you have to look up integrity, that tells you something about a culture. But the big change came in the year 2006 when the word of the year was not truth, not truthfulness, but truthiness.

Now, that might tell us a little bit less than some would like to say, suggesting that a crisis in truth was just being universally experienced by everyone in the society at that time. No, remember, you’re talking about internet searches. So on the one hand, it could mean that there’s a crisis in truth. Indeed, I think there is. But on the other hand, it could be that a lot of people heard the term and said, I don’t know what that means. The easiest way these days to find out what it means is, well, you got it, Google it.

But of course Merriam-Webster doesn’t want you to Google it or use just an internet search engine, they want you to go to their own website and get the authoritative dictionary value definition of the word. But truthiness does point to the fact that at the time in the year 2006, the United States, many people in the United States were beginning to understand that European strains of what became known as postmodernism had deeply infected societies on both sides of the Atlantic to the extent that there were so many people who had lost a basic confidence in the objective reality of truth that they actually were toying with the idea that there is no absolute or objective truth. And thus truth or truthiness is just something like a compliment you pay to an assertion you might hope would be true or preferred to be true.

Now, for Christians, that turns out to be really important because we believe in truth. We believe in the correspondence understanding of truth. That is to say, if we say God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, we mean that that is a proposition which is to be understood in space, in time, in history as true. True in every sense in which it could possibly be true, grounded in reality outside the proposition and independent of those who hear or articulate or read that proposition.

Politics does show up a lot. For example, in 2012, the word socialism and capitalism, well, they basically tied for the words that stood out as being investigated by the users of this website. You then continue through, again, not a surprise, 2018, the word was justice. You consider what was going on at that time and much of it going on, on the streets of America, not to mention the college campuses, and you won’t be surprised that the crisis of COVID-19 led in two successive years to medical terms being the word of the year.

The first one was in 2020, the word was pandemic. The next one in 2021, the word vaccine. By the way, when we talk about the subversion of words, the year that stands out is 2019 where the most looked up word, the word of the year, according to Merriam-Webster was the word they, a pronoun. And here’s where we understand the demolition of the language because of the demolition of the larger meaning in the culture, an absolute rebellion against the objective reality of male and female.

This is about the time when all of a sudden the kind of ridiculousness such as preferred pronouns became a part of our cultural conversation.

Part II

The 2022 Merriam-Webster Word of the Year: ‘Gaslighting’ — The Nefarious Nature of the Word Reminds Us of the Importance of Truth

But again, we come back to gaslighting 2022’s word of the year. Merriam-Webster defines it as “A psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality or memories, and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”

Now, that’s a rather long definition. As a matter of fact, it is as yet the longest definition of a Merriam-Webster word of the year yet offered. Now, there is a really interesting background to that word. Why gas? Why light? Why gaslight? The answer is a play. The play was by the British playwright Patrick Hamilton and it debuted in 1938, and it was known as Gas Light. And by the way, in the original British form, not one word, but two gas and light. It has been now conflated into one term, gaslight. No space.

Now, if you care about the history of culture, that was a really interesting period, especially in drama on both sides of the Atlantic. It was in the interwar period, and yet at the very same time, even as World War II had not yet happened, the storm clouds were very much on the horizon. There was a focus in much of the dramatic presentation of the era in many the movies of the era in crime movies and what was known as noir, that is looking at a particularly dark side of humanity. And by the way, there was no better way to demonstrate that dark side of humanity than in films that are now of course visible only in black and white.

But the plot of Patrick Hamilton’s play “Gas Light” back in 1938 had to do with a man who was manipulating his wife. The man was Jack Manningham, and he was seeking to convince his wife whose name was Bella, that she was going insane. And so he gaslighted her. What did that mean? It meant that he arranged for the gaslighting in their home to be manipulated, going up and down. When she thought that she saw the lights going up and down, he denied that it was happening and suggested that she was experiencing some kind of mental distress. She was seeing an illusion.

Actually, of course, he had manipulated the whole thing and the results were predictable. She eventually came to mistrust her own apprehension of reality, and her hold on reality was completely undermined by the devious plot of her husband. And the mechanism was gas lights, thus gaslighting. But that was 1938. And by the way, two different movies were made of that play. One of them won at least two Academy Awards. And then you fast forward, I mean, because after all the 1930s and the 1940s are a long way behind us.

So how is it that we’re talking about gaslighting now? Well, it turns out that ever since… And the word has never totally disappeared from the English vocabulary, but it’s been something of an insider game. You have to know what is being discussed here. There was a television drama known as Gaslit that looked back at the life of Martha Mitchell, who was the wife of the then attorney general of the United States, John Mitchell during the Watergate crisis.

Mitchell, of course, went down in that crisis along with his president Richard M. Nixon. But more recently, the term has emerged in the culture in political discourse and with charges and countercharges that a candidate or a political leader or a major cultural figure is not telling the truth, but is instead speaking with bluster, and is gaslighting trying to destabilize reality itself. So you might say gaslighting in this sense is a form of untruth. It’s a form of lying, but it’s a particularly massive form of lying because you’re not just trying to convince someone of something that’s not true, you are trying to convince them that they really have no ability to know what is true or not, and they are thus dependent on you.

It’s predictable, therefore, that in a season of intense political activity such as say the midterm elections, you’re going to have a word like this that just might pop up. And here’s something else you need to understand about words. Words are like viruses. They’re like germs. They spread very fast. You see this happen among children. Sometimes children will learn a new word and they basically wear you out with it in a relatively short amount of time. Children hear words from other children and the next thing you know, that word is popping up here and there. And children in this pattern are rank amateurs.

Adults are the true professionals. You can look at studies say of sportscasting and you’ll understand that a sportscaster uses a word, and of course a lot of the linguistic challenge for sportscasters is coming up with adequate metaphors and fresh metaphors. So you come up with a metaphor, many of them, by the way, military. That’s another story. Why is it that athletic teams are always going to war? Well, the reality is that as you are looking at athletics, especially team athletics, anthropologists for a long time have pointed out that it is in one sense a sublimated replacement for military activity.

Keep them playing on the field, otherwise they’re going to be fighting in the streets. But the point I’m making about sportscasting is that when you do have a fresh metaphor, it spreads across the usage of other sportscasters very, very quickly because words in this sense are viral. How viral was the word gaslighting last year? According to Merriam-Webster, searches for the term last year spiked by 1,740%.

Now, let’s not spend much time on the math. Let’s just say 1,740% is absolutely massive. Now, in a political context, there are those who are going to suggest it is the other side that is doing the gaslighting, and it’s predictable that both sides are actually doing gaslighting. But we are now looking at innovations. We’re looking at explosions, spikes in gaslighting that really should concern us all, especially Christians who are concerned with truth.

A part of the danger of the populism that drives so much of our politics these days, and by the way, it’s not entirely negative. Populisms can sometimes come with very positive results. But the point is that a lot of the energy behind populism is the effort to try to overcome a dominant cultural message with a different cultural message. That’s actually what just about everyone is trying to do, whether they are agents of the right or agents of the left.

And in this sense, both sides can be quite adept at gaslighting and that includes the people who are accusing the other side of gaslighting. But I’m going bring this to a conclusion simply by saying that the test of whether or not someone’s gaslighting is whether or not what he or she is saying is true. And this is where Christians just have to remember that truth matters to us. It matters to us ultimately. It matters to us essentially.

We neither want to gaslight nor to be gaslit, but that means we have to know what the truth is, how we can know what the truth is, and we must know the moral imperative to choose the truth over the lie every single time. I simply want to say by the way, that that is a part of what makes the Christian family and Christian marriage so important because let me just put it this way. It’s much easier to be gaslit as an individual than as say a couple committed to biblical truth together or a family.

This also points to the vital importance of the congregation and the purpose of God in the new covenant. Congregations are much more difficult to gaslight than individuals vulnerable in a world of “I’m the present media” and constant barrage of all kinds of information, much of it trying to gaslight all of us all the time. I found the runners up in terms of the 2022 word of the year by Merriam-Webster, also very interesting. And remember, these are also based upon a very significant increase in searches for these words over the previous year.

In the top 10, include the words oligarch. And of course, that’s usually these days preceded by Russian because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the role of the Russian oligarchs. That is the extremely rich, very powerful, very, very powerfully manipulative leaders of Russia who have been the cronies of the Russian president.

Omicron, that’s not just the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, it’s a variant of COVID. People wanted to know what that means. Codify or codify, depending upon which side of the Atlantic you may be on and which pronunciation you may prefer, but that means to codify having nothing to do with code, computer code in this case, but with the legal code as in translating something that had been a court decision into law. And don’t we know how relevant that is?

My guess is that it was Americans driving the spike in the searches for the term queen consort. Of course, that makes reference to Camilla, queen consort to Britain’s King Charles III. So why all the curiosity? Why the uncertainty? Well, it’s because Americans aren’t used to queens at all, and certainly not to queen’s consort. What does this mean? It means that this person is queen, not by any hereditary right, but simply by being married to the king.

Now, I’m simply going to say this also is indirectly, and people might not recognize it, a very direct confirmation of the fact that the very structure of marriage is heterosexual, a man and a woman, which is why the term throughout English common law history of marital consortium is here reflected in the title queen consort. I’ll simply say if you get that, you get that. If you don’t, you don’t. But there’s nothing subtle there.

Rounding out some of the terms that were also found on the list raid as in raid someone’s house. I wonder whose house that could be. And sentient as in thinking. That’s believed to have been brought on by the engineer at Google who claimed that he had developed and others had developed an artificial intelligence system that had become sentient. Google said no and evidently a significant number of Americans said, “You said no to what?”

Just a final thought on this before we turn to questions and that is this. When a word like this appears with the usage, it now has people begin to use it in context in which it clearly does not apply. And this just gets to another linguistic fact in our culture. Terms tend to be segregated or separated between a column in which you have positive words on one side and negative words on the other side.

Gaslighting is a negative word. So when you hear it, it may mean that someone actually means gaslighting. It may mean that someone just means something negative, or it may mean they’re trying to gaslight you.

Part III

How Does the ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act Make a Church and Pastor Vulnerable If They Will Not Perform Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Now we turn to questions. We talk so much this week about the respect for Marriage Act, misnamed and misadopted by the United States Senate. We’ve talked a lot about it on The Briefing this week. I’ve written a lot about it at world opinions this week.

One of the points I’ve made is that the bill leaves Christian institutions, schools, organizations very vulnerable to challenges on an LGBTQ basis or a same-sex marriage basis. This pastor says, “Look, the law says that my church can’t be forced to perform nor to host a same-sex ceremony.” So what is the vulnerability? It’s a good question. The pastor asks it quite carefully, and I’ll simply say, I’ll give one thing right now. Just one thing.

Kristen Waggoner, who is the president of the Alliance Defending Freedom in an article published just yesterday, points out that one of the key vulnerabilities is the definition of whether or not an institution, an organization, or a school, deserves a tax exempt status. And that’s important far beyond taxation, so long as it serves the public good.

And if you can change the public good from being this to that, then you can effectively say that school can no longer exist. And this is exactly the strategy that you see being played out even ahead of time on the part of some LGBTQ activist communities. They want to see Christian schools, Christian organizations, Christian foster care organizations, adoption care organizations just listed as no longer serving the public good or illegitimate public purpose because we’re out of step with the society on the definition of marriage.

And pastor, the other thing I will simply point out here is that the Senate had the opportunity to fix the legislation so that that danger was removed and they steadfastly would not and did not. That says everything I think we need to know about where this is headed.

Part IV

Did God Try to Kill Moses? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But next a question from Mark, and I really appreciate questions from careful readers of scripture who reads something and say, “I wish I knew more about that.” Mark Wright sent about Exodus 4:24 through 26, when of course we are told that God sought to kill Moses, but the life of Moses is saved by his wife Zipporah who circumcised their firstborn son, and thus saves Moses’ life, saves him from the wrath of God. And the writer, this letter Mark says, “There must be more to the story, right? We aren’t given much information to go on here.”

Well, Mark, you’re right. There’s not enough information right there to satisfy all of our questions, but there is enough right there. And by right there, I mean an exodus. There is enough given also the structure of the Pentateuch, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. There is enough in Genesis and Exodus to tell us everything we need to know about what is going on here.

God is raising up Moses as a mediator figure. Moses is going to be the agent through whom God will rescue his people from captivity to Pharaoh in Egypt. Now, remember that Moses’s mother had saved his life by arranging that he would be raised in Pharaoh’s household. But now Moses knows that he is a Jewish man and he knows that God is calling him to this purpose and yet there is one huge problem with Moses serving in this role on behalf of the Jewish people.

He is in defiance of God himself because the covenant sign of circumcision has not yet been done on his own firstborn son. His own firstborn son is in his body, a defiance of the very God that Moses is now to serve by leading God’s people out of captivity into the land of promise.

So when you’re looking for more, Mark, you need to look back to Genesis 17:9 through 14, and the Abrahamic covenant where God tells Abraham that a man who will not circumcised his son or is not circumcised himself, refuses circumcision, is to be cut off from his people. And yes, that’s an intended verbal construction to be cut off from his people.

Now, before Moses can return to Egypt and serve God as the one who will mediate between God and the chosen people as they are led in the Exodus from Egypt, before Moses can do that, he has to be faithful. And God uses bringing him to the point of death in order to make clear. It is the uncircumcised nature of Moses’ own son that is the issue. Moses is near death. He cannot then on behalf of himself, satisfy God by circumcising his son. So his wife, the daughter of a Midianite priest does so.

What an incredible biblical shock. Moses’ life once again is saved by another, saved by his mother, saved by his sister, saved by a daughter of Pharaoh in Egypt, saved by others, saved now by his Midianite wife, by her act of bringing about faithfulness in their son, which Moses had not done.

And by the way, the Scripture is just very, very clear here. There is more in that picture. And yes, you should think of that picture there in Exodus 4. That picture involves blood. And once again, not by accident, it points to the culmination and the saving purpose of God in a blood atonement.

Part V

Is It Possible for a Person to Take His Own Life and Still Be a Christian? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

There’s so many good questions. Next week, we’ll try to leave even more time for questions coming from listeners to The Briefing. I want to end on one that is about one of the most serious subjects we could consider and one that affects virtually every congregation’s life over time.

It’s a question that is so pressing, I just feel an impression that I should deal with this question today and not save it for a future opportunity. The question comes about a local family who lost a teenager to suicide. And the question is, is it possible for someone to take their own life and still have been a believer? And I understand the pressing nature of that question. And here’s where I want to say that the Bible makes very clear that suicide is a form of homicide, is the destruction, the taking of the life of an image bearer and is a sin of incredible even incalculable significance.

And yet, it is not the unforgivable sin. It is not. The unforgivable sin is resisting the Holy Spirit, that means rejecting, resisting the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a very different thing. When you’re talking about sins, and I’m not going to say the word over and over again, but when you talk about any form of sin that takes a human life, you need to understand there are no sins we can imagine in this world in terms of a legal code that would be of greater significance.

But the one sin that is of infinitely greater significance is resistance to God himself, resistance to the gospel, the rejection of Christ, resistance to the Holy Spirit spoken of as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is not the case in this pastoral context. If you or you know someone maybe struggling with some of these thoughts, you need to go talk to your pastor. Talk to a pastor who loves Christ and loves the gospel. Talk to a Christian and get help.

God loves you, gave you the gift of life and wills life for you, and not just life, but an abundant, hopeful, joyful life.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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