Thinking about language has left us in quite the pickle.
We know that language is messy. It struggles to describe human experiences and ideas. It is unfit to describe God. How, then can we talk about or to God? Can we trust anyone who says that they speak for God? And does using language about God make us idolators?
It seems like we've tied ourselves up in a Gordian knot. We are locked in a large and lonely room. (Or a very small and private room if we think of the room of our minds, the movie between our ears.)
Let me pause here for a moment.
I can't exaggerate how true it is that this large and lonely room is the situation of our world. Western civilization, our civilization, has been locked inside for hundreds of years. I'm not exaggerating or being dramatic.
You see, it denies everything that cannot be measured. With a ruler in one hand and a calculator in the other, it judges everything. And so, after judging so much for so long, it is now unwilling to know anything. Our best scientists are on record today admitting that we could be living in computer simulation for all we know. We may not even exist! How depressing. How meaningless. And it affects everything. As scripture says
"For although [human beings] knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles." (Romans 1:21-23 NIV)
In case you missed it, that last part means that human beings traded knowing God for the worship of idols that they make.
But, I am not here to write about that. I'm here to write about our rescue. Because, you see, God does not leave us in the lonely room.
You see, our God is our creator. God made everything. What this means is that he made the universe and its laws and its times. He also made human beings. He made them to live in it, to govern it, and to worship him as his representatives to everything else it.
And how did he make it all? The scriptures tell us that God spoke it into being. Now don't think of God using a human language, like Hebrew or French or Spanish. The language is poetic. What it is getting at is that there is a deep reason, a wisdom, underneath everything, and that human beings are made as part of that wisdom and made to know that wisdom.
Isn't it weird that two-legged mammals on a little, blue planet developed mathematics and logic that allows them to understand how atoms and subatomic particles, black holes and distant galaxies work? We don't just wander confused around our neighborhoods. Instead, we developed a fantastic tool to study our universe. It is called science. And it really works!
How do we do that? How can our brain make sense of distant planets and galaxies?
It can because we are made in the image of God, in Latin the imago Dei /ee-MAH-go DAY-ee/. And so the reason and logic and wisdom of the creator that knits our universe together is something we can understand because we're part of it all--and that includes language. Our God is a speaking God. And so, human beings, made in his image, may speak with confidence. God put language into the world and called it good (Gen 2:20).
So using language about God or with God does not make us idolators: that is what language is for! Indeed, using language to pray and worship God is its highest and truest use. When we do that, we're doing what we, of all that is made, are created to do (Psalm 150). Not only can we use language, we are made and commanded to do so. Human beings were made to be priests of creation speaking praise on behalf of all things--from stars to mollusks to amoeba to rocks and trees and vines--and displaying to all as well what our God is like, calling all creation to its proper worship.
There's more to say here, but until next time: "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!"