The Limits of Language
Language is important to us. We express private, and important parts of ourselves to others through language, and others express these intimate moments with us. “Language” is the vehicle by which we connect with the people around us.
The poet, Thomas Hume, expressed it this way when he said,
“Language is by its very nature a communal thing; that is, it expresses never the exact thing but a compromise – that which is common to you, me, and everybody.”
Language is something shared by all. Using language, we celebrate life together, and using language we mourn death together.
Language is the gift from a God who wants to communicate with his children. He doesn’t just make us able to understand in order for us to listen, no, he gives us a voice in which to verbally dance with our Father. He opens opportunity for involvement and interaction. He gives us the Scriptures, written using man-made words, in order to express something inexpressible the love of God.
Though, where language creates life, language can also create death.
We so often forget that, unlike God, “language” is fallible. Language is a slave to experience and to context. So often we forget that language is not universal truth. Christ is.
We teach Scripture, but forget that we are communicating the truth of that Scripture in our own “dialect”- preaching the word as we have seen it through our own lens, experience and developed it out of our personal, mental framework. Life has shaped the way in which we receive the words that come from a speaker’s mouth. An aloof, or disinterested father’s commitment to be home for Christmas will be received differently than the words of a consistent, and passionately loving father.
So it is with people in our churches.
Sure, on the outside they might all share a similar appearance, speak similar phrases and terminology, but this doesn’t mean that they are all saying the same things. Speaking similar “words” doesn’t mean that we are all part of the same culture or people-group.
The message is true, and our motives are pure, but others will be receiving the message in an entirely different way. We all might speak the same “parent language,” but that does not mean that we are all speaking the same “dialect.”
And all of this is only for those who actually go to church. There is an entire portion of our society that have no desire to step foot inside a church. Why? Because they don’t understand our language. It’s possible they have heard our words, or phrases, and have interpreted them in a way that, though intended with love, spoke only of hate.
We told them we could never love them the way they are.
Our language was not a language of warmth and hospitality. It was a language of cold exclusion.
Part two tomorrow!