You’ve probably heard it with your own ears. I heard it just the other day. It goes something like this:
"And that's not all! . . . This offer is for a limited time only. The ______ can be yours, absolutely free! All you have to pay is a small shipping and handling fee."
The copy editors for the radio ad I referenced above might not have known the familiar phrase from the The Princess Bride:
You keep using that word; I do not think it means what you think it means.
– Inigo Montoya, the imitable Spaniard, in reference to the word “inconceivable”
While the expression “free, with a small shipping and handling fee” might be considered truthful, the word “absolute” adds something to the assertion. Something “absolutely free,” of course, involves no cost at all.
I once threw away a small paperback I’d gotten free of charge. It was titled Absolutely Free and was about grace, I think. Actually, I think I’d agree with the thrust of the book, but absolute language can absolutely trip us up, so I’ve learned to use it only rarely:
- It absolutely is raining right now.
- 14 is absolutely more than 5, and Pete Rose (#14) absolutely had more base hits in his career than Johnny Bench (#5).
- Absolutely, I’m both a sinner and a believer.
At various times through the last ten years or so, I’ve called to mind a conversation with a friend and colleague. We were not going to see each other for a while, and we had lunch. Among other things we talked about, I shared with this person what I believe to be the truth of Jesus. She kindly probed, resisting and wanting to know if I felt something were lacking, as though Jesus would fit right in the “hole” I detected in her life. Or was it some sense of something absolute that caused me to broach the topic with her?
I was able to answer her pretty quickly: no, it wasn’t anything that I perceived she needed based on what I could personally observe or experience. There wasn’t anything negative, really, in her person. She was, and is, a good person—responsible, capable, friendly, and other good qualities. But she did not have any apparent concern for eternity, or for the Lord Who can assure hers. And that, for me, is an absolute.
Recently I’ve thought about the topic of that conversation in relation to other people. It’s worth thinking about. What do I want for others? What do I believe they need? What do I need, for that matter?
I, for one, do believe in absolute truths. They may not be as plenteous as certain others (fundamentalists, for instance) think they are, but there are some. And I do think people absolutely need Jesus.