[first published in the monthly Congregational Notes for October, 2019.]
There is something wonderfully non-material about the gift of speech which we can too easily overlook. We think of something and want to share it so our brain directs a corresponding series of noises to be made with our mouth. Someone else hears these sounds, decodes them and (hopefully) understands in their mind what was first in ours. The process does not need to be taught; a young baby automatically learns to associate the word ‘Mum’ with the image of one who feeds, cares and loves, and that although ‘Dad’ also cares and loves, Dad is not Mum. Different images and ideas require different sounds, i.e. words. Other words quickly follow as a mind realises how language operates and soon learns that words also exist for ideas that cannot be seen. Yes, there is some subjectivity in words like ‘freezing’, ‘cold’, ‘chilly’ & ‘cool,’ but experience and context will often identify the difference between saying, “It is cool today,” in July or January, or in Melbourne and in Brisbane.
If words are not understood they are of little value and often indistinguishable from noise. If they are used wrongly, it can be very embarrassing. This is why much of early childhood education should be devoted to the function and rules of speech and how to relate words accurately to experience and ideas. This also requires accurate listening. Ancient civilizations identified this as learning grammar, logic and rhetoric and built whole educational systems on it. (Australia take note!)
The ability to communicate above and beyond merely physical things and to ponder invisibles and intangibles in the mind is a gift of God stamped upon us by virtue of our being very deliberately created “in God’s Image” (Gen 1:26-27). God is Triune, which among other things tells us that He is not some eternally mysterious, lonely “One” but a God who has always known the joy of communication. He is a speaking God (Gen 1:3); the Father, Son and Spirit each communicating in the “Us-ness” of Personhood (Gen 1:26). And because we are made in His image, humans are not just some species of intelligent animal as evolutionists tell us but created to have & enjoy communication about Him and with Him! Thus far Genesis chapters 1-2.
God also tells us that this image has been broken and spoiled through human sin. Despite this, broken bits of that image remain so that although we are fallen, we can still communicate with one another. We also still understand (inaccurately) the sense of the word “God” whatever language one uses (Rom 1:21), but being dead spiritually we will not respond to worship and honour Him as we should. This failure is simply to add sin to sin and only makes our situation worse. It is a downward spiral from which sinners cannot and do not want to escape even if they could.
Thankfully God in His grace still speaks, even to sinners. He lovingly calls them to repent and come to Him and be made new. But how can the spiritually dead hear of spiritual life and understand when it is beyond their experience? When all they have in their mind is the grammar, and rhetoric of sin? How can they hear the logic of grace: “Come unto Me and live”? How indeed! And there is our desperate plight.
Of ourselves we cannot and we will not hear, but so that we will hear accurately and so that we will desire what we otherwise could not, He graciously sends His Spirit to work in us. And He is the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9)! It is only in Jesus and because of Him that anyone, past, present or future, can hear the voice of God and live. When you hear Him speak, dear reader, do not close your ears, but listen in wonder!