Now here is a fascinating discovery. The word “character” appears only three times in the Christian bible.
That’s right. Three.
This is the count from the NASB, probably the most word-for-word English translation of the original manuscripts. As jots and tiddles go, it pays attention to every one of them.
It only shows four times in the ESV – my preferred translation. Some translations show a slightly higher count (The Message shows it 20 times.) But it is still much lower that one might expect.
Yet character is such a prominent part of modern day self-help, education, leadership and even evangelical literature.
So what’s up with that?!
By contrast, other words are vastly more prominent in Christian scripture. Here are a few word count comparisons.
Character – 3
Moral – 4
Integrity – 27
Forgiveness – 141
Hope – 154
Truth – 206
Faith – 381
Love – 529
Spirit – 558
Righteous – 629
Heart – 856
Lord – 7,918
Did you get that last one? The word ‘Lord’ occurs a whopping 7,918 times!
Character counts. But not as much as we might think.
Of course, I would never discount the importance of character. It’s much preferred in humanity.
Nor would I rely extensively on “word count theology.” I’m simply stating a curious observation from a recent personal study.
Could it be that one of the reasons for the tragic absence of character and integrity on the global scene is because we who are quickest to point it out offer remedies in a completely upside-down and backward manner? Or we glibly offer no remedies at all other than calling it out?
Rethinking Our Focus
What might happen if we gave the same prominence to the words of scripture as did the Author of the words?
Instead of gnashing our teeth at the repugnant behavior of others, we might do well to set our minds on the rock-solid revelations of Lord, God, Righteous, and Spirit (all of which are reflected in the names of God within scripture).
There is a historical precedent that wherever there has been a refocus on the presence of God amidst the collapse of character, the resulting bias has actually led toward a change of human hearts and minds that lead to a restoration of integrity, morality, and character.
Setting aside our worrisome pre-occupation with the decline of character in our nation could well be the first step to restoring it.
It’s worth a thought. As risky as it may sound.
Right now, the other way sure doesn’t seem to be working so well.