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Words, words, words

"Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other." Genesis 11.7

After God and life, language must rank as the fact of life humans most take for granted. The Bible offers an ambivalent view: God uses it to confound the efforts of monoglot humans to rival his authority through their construction efforts at Babel, while the redeemed use it to enrich their praise of God in Revelation 7.9: "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb."

Wittgenstein pointed out that language only means what it describes. In other words, it has no meaning in its own right. The implications of this insight are far-reaching. To be real/ true what we express through language must be apparent in the way we live - including faith in God... which is the apostle James' point when he asserts "faith without works is dead." (James 2.17) He is not, as many have misunderstood him, suggesting that we have to make up what is lacking in faith through good works. Rather he is asserting what, many years later, Wittgenstein echoed: that faith is proved by its impact on the lives of those who profess it.

Missionaries know though both bitter and sweet experience, that the Gospel is most effectively preached when it is lived out in practice. Known more for his pictures than his words, Vincent van Gogh observed that qualities such as truth, beauty and love are best expressed in relationships (ie by putting them into practice) than by merely representing them (ie through art, literature, &c). Jesus is presented by John in his famous Prologue as "the Word made flesh" (John 1.14). Ponder that for a moment. The eternal being enters creation to reveal himself in the language of love-in-action. How shall we answer?



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