On Tools

Tools are what we make of them. Anything that can be used for a good, productive purpose can also likely be twisted and used for evil.

I was thinking about this yesterday when listening to a podcast about wealth distribution and economic inequality. The keynote speaker of this podcast was Nick Hanauer, a tech billionaire with unusual views on those topics (for someone in his position of wealth). To paraphrase, he believes that a rising tide raises all ships, and that a more equal wealth distribution (i.e. higher wages) will increase demand, thereby increasing the wealth of every part of a supply chain. He calls this the ultimate realization of any “capitalistic democracy.” The other extreme, the one towards which we’re currently headed as a country, he deems a “neo-feudalist frontier society,” akin to 18th century France (we all know how that ended: the French Revolution). His views are closely aligned with my own, but this writing space is not really a platform for political views, at least not in this case right now.

The point is: he got me thinking a bit when he punctuated his point with the catchphrase “the pitchforks will come for us.” Even though I’m of an age where I’ve never seen a mob-lynching first-hand, that image rings clear. It’s an image that crops up in films and stories about darker times. Some of those darker times are well in the past, and others–such as those during the civil rights movement–are still fresh in the mind of this country. This is a great example of a tool turned into a weapon, and is especially apropos when considering the original purpose of the tool: spreading hay to feed livestock. Said another way, a tool intended to give is turned into a weapon to take.

As someone whose feelings for tools goes beyond simple affection, one of my greatest frustrations is when someone misuses a tool because they don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. Even greater yet is when they do understand how it’s supposed to work, but deliberately misuse the tool. Some of these may be obvious to a layman. A wrench is not a hammer, and a screwdriver is not a pry-bar. If a wrench was a hammer, we wouldn’t need hammers. Some of them may not be so obvious to someone that isn’t in-the-know. A razor-sharp paring chisel is not for scraping paint off an old door. A finely-tuned smoothing plane is not the right tool for rough-sizing a panel. That’s what scrapers and scrub-planes are for.

One of the greatest frustrations in my life–and one that persists today–arises when people misuse two of the greatest tools we’ve ever been given: the Bible, and the Word. They are meant to guide us, and to help us find God and each other. They are meant to instruct and inform us, and to help us build a foundation upon which a glorious, joyful life can be erected in His name.

But beyond that–and I cannot possibly overstate or overemphasize this–they are not weapons. In fact, I think that is part of why it took me so long to find God in my heart. For many years, I felt as though people were using the Word to tell me what I was doing wrong. Too often, preaching is done from a high horse, and congregations are scolded like children.

When I was nineteen years old, I fell in love with a beautiful girl. In all other aspects of her life, she was gentle and sweet. She had the most tender, giving heart I’ve ever known, even to this day. I adored her, and in many ways I love her still. But when it came to the Bible, she was rigid and unyielding, and she used the Word not to build herself and those around her, but as a shackle. The tool became twisted, and instead of making her heart more buoyant, it held her down. Perhaps worse, though, is what it did to me. When she broke my heart, she weaponized verses against our relationship. Forget for a minute how that might have made a nineteen-year old boy feel, and consider the long-term scars it left. I was embittered, and I became callous and angry against the Bible and those who used it to guide their lives. It took me almost a decade and a half to overcome the prejudice that caused.

That’s not an excuse, or a condemnation. It’s just a fact. That’s what happened to me, and that’s what it made me feel. That weaponization of the Word made me forget that it was supposed to be a tool, and in the end, whatever her intentions, what happened did far more harm than it did good. That is the danger of using a tool as a weapon.

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