At ten months old, my son Elliot has a small vocabulary. His contribution to the household conversation is limited to a couple of consonants and one vowel, combined, recombined, and repeated. His most advanced word to date is “Gack,” which may mean, “duck,” “Uncle Joe,” or “Help me, I have pureed green beans up my nose.”
Lord willing, Elliot will eventually learn to distinguish his Uncle Joe from a duck. But right now his perception of the world is limited by his lack of words. He cannot describe his world or his experience. He cannot enter into conversation with us. Learning to speak will give him categories of thought and perception that make all of life fit together and make sense. Words – true, accurate words – define reality.
Do you realize that Scripture is teaching you to speak? I’m not making a comment on the size of your vocabulary. I’m talking about words as a measure of our ability to understand and describe ultimate reality, and enter into conversation with the Author of reality. Though we are capable of speaking thousands of words a day, if our words are not shaped by the words of the God who speaks, molded by the story of the Word who became flesh, then they are empty words. But God, through Scripture, is teaching us to talk.
Think of it like this. As a small child, you had no idea of the connection between the word “hot” and the experience of fingers seared by a stove burner. Slowly, through repeated parental warnings –“No touch! Hot! Hot!” – and the painful lessons of experience, you came to understand reality. Likewise we all, without God’s instruction, have no conception of the reality behind words like “sin” or “rebellion.” We see no connection between the four-letter word that escapes during the traffic jam, and the dissatisfaction and distress that festers in our soul while we wait. But slowly, patiently, God teaches us to refrain from anger (Psa. 37:8), and to wait on the Lord, committing our way to him (Psa. 37:5, 7). We learn true words that accurately define our inner world and our outer world, and we learn to enter into dialogue about both with the God who speaks. In short, we learn to talk.
Until God speaks, we have only vague notions of his existence – and even these we twist and pervert to suit our own fancies. We don’t know who we are until God tells us. We don’t know what health or what depravity look like until God defines them for us. And, like infants, we are slow and hesitant to learn to speak accurately. But Scripture teaches us to speak. It gives us names – true names, accurate names, names not of our own invention but of God’s revelation – by which we can call upon God: Creator, Lord, Almighty, Father. It teaches us to see ourselves accurately: simultaneously sinner, sufferer, and (in Christ) saint. And it teaches us to respond rightly to our circumstances: not with religious ideas or human-centered moral exhortations, but by relating to the God who speaks, through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh and crucified so we can call upon God as Father.
This is what sanity looks like, what maturity sounds like: a conversation between a redeemed soul and God himself. Christ, have mercy. Father, deliver me. To you, O Lord, I give thanks with my whole heart. So open the God’s word, and call upon Jesus, the living Word. Listen to the One who speaks. And join the conversation.
Photo by Ashton