By Layton Friesen
If God speaks to me, it will mostly need to be in English. To really come across to me, it needs to be in the English words of my translated Bible, because that’s the best I can do.
But here’s trouble: words like king, lord, father, creator and god are all polluted. King, for example, is corrupted by flavours of domination and cruelty. Father is tainted by my own regrets about fathering. Lord stirs memories of dark lords, Voldemort, Sauron and company. All human words have this brokenness hidden in them. English is a fallen language.
But if English itself is a sinful, fallen business—if words like king have been ruined by our sinful actions—how can we know when we say “Jesus is King” we are saying what’s really true of God?
There is simply no way for creatures like us, on our own, to know and speak truth about God. God is beyond our describing. It’s hopeless to throw our sin-clouded words or ideas up into the sky, hoping somehow they stick to God. On our own, we have no access to God at all. We simply do not have the ability to speak truthfully about God. That’s a huge problem!
But! Does this mean that God, using his infinite wisdom and love, could not figure out a way to make himself understood in our sinful language? We can’t use our words to make them describe God accurately, but maybe God is just so loving and brilliant that he could show us real truth using our words. This is a question of God’s capability not of our incapability.
Could God have been at work in the development of human languages, making sure that when he wanted to speak to us, there are good enough words available? Although English was invented by sinners, maybe God guarded us from so damaging our words that they could still carry divine truth.
God is also able to repair words that have been ruined by human sin—words like king, god, father and shepherd can be baptized, cleansed, readjusted, turned right-side-up. For example, a word like king is given new meaning when the King sends his Son to be born in a feed-trough and rule from a cross.
And isn’t God perfectly capable of transforming our minds to understand his truth in our language if we allow him to?
Revelation is all about grace. To really know God truthfully we depend on God entering our world, redefining our words and transforming our minds so we grasp what he is saying. When God speaks to us, transformed sinners, using the words and concepts he has chosen and repaired, we can truly know God.
This is the wonder of Christmas. God is searching, prying, cleansing, pressing in, seeking a way to speak. God is determined that we will succeed in knowing him as he is, truthfully. Revelation is an achievement word. God has not revealed himself unless humans can get it, can understand and love what he shows. This is God’s persistent, creative love.
Knowing God is not about us finding the right language for God. It’s about God finding the right human words for God. To rely on the Bible for revelation is to depend on grace, on God miraculously living as a human, finding a way to get through to our darkened minds.
Hail the King in the feed-trough who speaks perfect Siamou and Anishinaabemowin and English.