Have you had a frustrating conversation lately? You know, the kind of conversation with a friend over social media, or with a sibling over the phone, or your spouse across the table in which you are both speaking English, but things are going so miserably that it’s as if you are speaking two different languages. You’re arguing over words and definitions and what things mean, and not getting anywhere productive. In fact, you’re so frustrated by one another’s perplexing use of words that you simply want to give up and walk away.
I keep having these conversations.
I keep hearing about other people having these conversations.
And we’re all sad and discouraged about it.
What’s going on?
It’s as if our American English has become several different languages at once. People are banding together with the people who make sense to them, and separating from the people who don’t.
We’re dividing over important words like “justice,” “peace,” and “freedom”.
“Marriage,” “man,” and “woman”.
“Liberty,” “life,” and “rights”.
These disagreements aren’t new, but they are heightened, more dramatic, and more divisive than they have been in my lifetime. Almost every news article and social media update is someone who thought they were communicating clearly, just to be completely misunderstood.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re experiencing a modern Tower of Babel.
It’s as if cinder blocks and power tools are falling from the sky. Government structures, businesses, relationships, and churches are crumbling under the pressure of our confused language. These structures took a lot of effort to build, and yet, now, they are collapsing into dust. People who once worked together are throwing up their hands, disgusted with one another and storming off because they can no longer understand each other.
Everyone’s saying, “Words matter” (at least we agree on that), but we just can’t seem to agree on what they mean. What we do with that matters.
This moment in history is begging for each of us to pick up a dictionary and get to work on our communication skills.
One of the most important decisions you and I are going to make this year is which dictionary we’re going to use.
I’m discovering the importance of using the Bible as my dictionary. It must be. They hold the words of life.
The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will keep them;
you will guard us from this generation forever.”Psalm 12: 2-7
I won’t be doing anyone any favors if I simply define words the way I want, the way that suits my circumstances, my listener, or my culture. My only hope for contributing something solid and true to any conversation is to make sure my words conform to God’s Word. I think I may just need to keep a highlighted, dog-eared copy of the Bible – now, my dictionary – nearby when I communicate with other people. I’ve gotta ask myself, “Am I using words the way God wants me to? Do I mean what He means?” Lord, have mercy.
As battle lines are drawn and people hunker down in countries-within-a-country, what will you and I do? Will we hunker down, too? Maybe we should, just for a time, until the dust clears? Or, maybe, just maybe, even while the cinder blocks are falling, those of us referencing the dictionary with words about a God who loves the world and who will be worshiped by people from “every nation”, “tribe,” “people,” and “language” will pray for mercy to somehow speak effectively with people who use the same words but speak an entirely different language.
Maybe, just maybe, we could try.
Even before the dust settles.
We could try with His words.
It’s helpful to know up front that communicating with someone who speaks a different language can be exhausting. (For me, anyway.) I have to concentrate and listen with all my might. I have to speak clearly and write deliberately, carefully, and thoughtfully. I have to look words up, compare definitions, and then word and reword and reword-my-reword.
It’s easier not to.
But it matters that we try.
After all, we might have the chance to speak about Jesus and someone might hear and understand and put their faith in Him.
Do you know what I think would be amazing? If, in the midst of this modern-day Tower of Babel, God would grant us a modern-day Acts moment, too. I’m going to pray that we may somehow communicate through the din – through this disorienting language barrier – to let people know that Jesus is the Strong Tower to whom we all may run and be saved.
“And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”Acts 2:7-11