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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Why words are never enough

Words in a postmodern culture
I remember a class at Sheffield University. The class was considering different forms of 'criticsm' (a word that sounds harsh, but in some settings simply means 'interpretation'). Being a scientific block-head, I was there to broaden my education and learn something about literature. We were being taught a technique / philosophy called "deconstruction", now probably consigned to the history dustbin, since we are talking 1991.

Deconstruction, a daughter of postmodernism, says, in effect, that any piece of writing has within it the seeds of its own destruction: a text fights with itself, can be deconstructed: words can't and don't say much. All part of the modern attack on words, on truth, blah, blah, blah.

The wonder of words and The Word
In spite of the highfalutin ramblings of post modernism, words are wonderful, and they remain the most basic way we communicate to one another. So important are they that God has communicated to us in words, in a Book, the Bible.

And so important is the idea of "word", the incarnate Son of God  is called "the Word". No Christian should be found on the side of postmodernism's dislike of words.

But words are not enough
But words are not enough. Can you imagine communicating to a loved one only through words on a computer screen? It's how some romances start, but that's the point, start. Why only start? Because communication is much much much more than words. Two people falling in love want to be with each other, smile at each other, laugh with each other, and much of that stuff is beyond word.

We know that words are not enough because the Son of God chose to come into the world and communicate by shared life, pain and joy. He could have communicated just through words, but he chose to communicate through a life lived before and with the Twelve and others.

A heritage from the knowledge culture
In my evangelical tradition (Reformed-ish) we rightly give great emphasises to words. But I don't think we give enough emphasis to non-verbal communication. Our charismatic and pentecostal friends by contrast give much attention to that form of communication. They put up their hands in worship, express emotion far more freely, speak in tongues they know not, are affectionate with each other and smile alot.

I don't think our limitation to the verbal is Biblical, I think it's cultural. We are products of the knowledge culture (university education, books, essays, more books, more essays).

Tired of lonely words
Sometimes I get so tired of words alone. Just recently I understood why a little bit more. A convert from China spoke of the contrast between what the communist party churned out and what they saw in Christians. They said that they were tired of words, but saw in the church the love of Christ which attracted them to Him.

Chairman Mao - Words - Little Red Book - Words - words, words. Tired of words. But then they met Christians who did not assault with words, but expressed love.

Unless words are accompanied with something non-verbal - love - they are little more than an irritating noise (the Word says this in 1 Corinthians 13).

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