Language

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

I would hope so.

I would think that a God worthy of worship, adoration, or even admiration, would have higher ways and thoughts than even the best that humanity can grasp.  “If you think you understand it, it isn’t God” is perhaps my favorite quote attributed to Augustine of Hippo. God is God, humans are humans, and can only, as the saying goes, “see in a glass, darkly“, as we attempt to understand God.  More is left, so we think and hope, for some future time, probably after death.

But because God’s thoughts are at a “higher” level than ours, and we can only express our thoughts about God in human language, we end up talking a lot of nonsense about God. We ascribe ideas and values to God in ways that are contradictory to our human experience.

Wisdom.  Love. Justice.

All words that we use to extol God.  And when life looks stupid, hateful, and unjust, silly Christians (lay and ordained, nobody is exempt) say things along the lines of “Well, God’s love (justice,wisdom) is not like human love (justice, wisdom). But God is still showing God’s love (justice, wisdom).”

If we use human language to speak of God’s action, it should be, if not a perfect match, something approaching recognizable. And so we should stop using contradictory language about God.

As a reasonably well-educated theologian, I know that God-talk will always elude the reality.  But as a reasonably well-educated theologian, it seems irresponsible to use language about God that points away from the reality–not only the divine reality, but the lived, experiential reality of human relationship with God.

We should be courageous to say that when we feel hurt by God (and God’s people), love is an inappropriate word.  Same when we experience what feels like stupidity and injustice–we should not be constrained to say that this is really God’s wisdom and justice, but we are simply unable to understand it as such.

If your romantic partner hits you, it’s not love, no matter how much s/he says it is.  It’s abuse. If your employer refuses you promotions or belittles you because of your gender or orientation or skin color, it’s injustice–even if s/he says it’s “all in fun”. A major part of elementary education (and even pre-elementary education) is about learning to “use your words” to say what you mean.

My mother–and I’m sure she wasn’t alone–did not allow me or my siblings to use “baby talk” for any longer than absolutely necessary. We grunted and pointed for what we wanted, she would say the word for it as she gave it to us.  Milk, apple.  As soon as we were able to speak an approximation of the word, we had to use that; no more grunt-and-point. She would repeat the word correctly as she gave us what we had asked for.  As soon as we were able to say the word, we would not get the milk or apple unless we asked for it correctly.  And if you said “apple”, you got an apple.  Not milk, even if that was what you meant to say.

Yes, we see in a glass dimly.  Part of that may be the divine intention–God may want to reveal bits of Godself to us only slowly, as we are able to understand and accept a fuller vision of divine reality. 

I think, though, part of that is our own fault. We do not see because the glass is clouded, smudged.  And a big part of the schmutz obscuring our view of God is the stupid way we use words about God that indicate the exact opposite of what is normally meant by those words.

Theology is talk about God.  Not just any talk, though–the suffix “-ology” indicates wise talk (“logos”), it indicates some amount of careful study.  It is not meant to be stupid talk, or baby-talk about God, and I have grown weary of pious stupidities and immaturities.  The “God’s love is love even when it looks like anything but love” is the grunt-and-point stage of theological language.

Divine love has to have some correlation with human love, if love is an appropriate term to use.  Same with wisdom and justice.

Please, use your words.  No more grunt-and-point theology.

 

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