I was fascinated by a news story that appeared in early April, which demonstrates how our harmful words may have negative consequences that we never imagined. James Stephens learned that lesson the hard way. Stephens was fired from his job as chief financial officer for the Georgia Subsequent Injury Trust Fund after his boss heard some less-than-flattering commentary, courtesy of an accidental pocket-dial. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/georgia-man-sues-former-boss-after-butt-dial-costs-him-job/.
Mike Coan, director of the fund and Stephens' supervisor, had a habit of calling after hours. After one such call, Stephens had a heated conversation with his wife about Coan, who was listening after Stephens accidentally called him back.
Consequently, Stephens is filing suit against his boss for eavesdropping and invasion of privacy. David Guldenschuh, the attorney representing both Stephens and his wife, claims that once Coan knew the conversation was intended to be private, he had a legal obligation to terminate the call, referring to the call as "voyeuristic eavesdropping" and "felonious conduct."
Rikki Klieman, legal analyst for CBS News, understands the rationale for the lawsuit, but sees a potential hurdle in its ability to proceed. "What we find here is someone who really believed he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in having a very, very confidential conversation with his wife and that yet, it may not be private at all."
That reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:34-37. “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I’m sure that we’ve all said things that we’ve regretted. I certainly have. There may well be things that we’ve said about other people that we’d be really embarrassed if the heard. However, whether they have heard what we’ve said or not, Jesus tells us that we will be held accountable for every careless word we have spoken.
How seriously do we take his words? Do we really believe that to be true? It should be a sober warning to each one us. At one level I find it rather scary. The Apostle James also warns of the destructive power of the tongue. He says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water,”
So, what can we do about it? Even if James Stephens wins his case, which I suspect is very unlikely, the damage has already been done. The relationship will never be the same. I wouldn’t recommend trying to take out a legal case against God for listening in to your private conversations. However, the answer can be found in 1 John 1:8,9 where the Apostle writes: “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Hopefully none of us will get into the same kind of mess as James Stephens, but hopefully we can learn from his experience. May we seek God’s forgiveness for our mistakes in the past, and allow him to purify our hearts so that we learn not to say things that we later regret, that we might build others up rather than tear them down
Colin A. Strong