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Monday, November 06, 2006

Language getting personal, Words of life

Read this:


Ok, you probably can’t and that’s ok. But if you are familiar with the English language you immediately recognize the characters and symbols as letters and punctuation marks in our alphabet.

Now let’s take those letters and arrange them into groups that we can recognize:

A closet is a small room.

Ok, that’s a bit better. Although we recognized the marks in our first example we needed to arrange them into something sensible. Our language has evolved over time such that when we read the sentence “A closet is a small room” it carries a meaning with it – we can recognize it as something intelligible.

But even in the second example something is lacking, so let me throw another example at you:

There is an intruder in your closet!

Ok, now it is personal, isn’t it? I am no longer speculating about a closet or a small room, or what it means for a closet to be a closet. Instead I am speaking of your closet. And your closet has an intruder. If I were to communicate this to you directly you might have several alarming thoughts race through your mind:
Is this intruder going to harm me? What do they want? Should I call the police or get myself a weapon? And how does Jonathan know I have an intruder in my closet, anyway?!?

Perhaps it is the last question that would be most applicable, right? On what basis do I know there is an intruder in your closet? For me to warn you of an intruder in your closet I must have some sort of personalized connection with you. Then meaning of my language then is interwoven with the personal nature of my experience. In other words, my statement (“There is an intruder in your closet!”) only has meaning if I have some sort of actual, personal knowledge that there is, in fact, an intruder in your closet. This is the personal nature of language. Language gets personal.

This is the human (all too human) aspect of language that seems to be necessary for Revelation to be personally meaningful. God could have stopped revealing when he inscribed with his own hand upon the stone tablets of Moses upon Mount Sinai. Or he could have continued to reveal in this manner: A direct dictation that left little doubt of its connection with the Creator. This Revelation would have been meaningful, of course, and I suppose to an extent it would be personally meaningful. However, when someone has a shared experience with us it speaks to us on a deeper level. For example, only those who have experienced an intruder in their closet can truly relate with each other. Otherwise it is just speculation and conjecture.

So, rather than speaking language through his own hand God spoke through the faith experiences of human beings. Shared experiences mixed with authoritative commands mixed with intense emotional output mixed with historical narrative mixed with wisdom, and on and on….the Revelation reaches through human souls to touch human souls. Through human words to affect human worlds. Through human lives to bring us new birth.