Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Gift of Language

May my musings be pleasing to him.” (Psalm 104:34 NJB)

As far as I know, human beings are the only creatures that use language. I'd have to be Dr. Doolittle to know how much animals comprehend, but, though they use and understand sounds and signals, they do not seem to understand language as such.

I say to our dog, "Do you want to go riding in the car?" She wags her tail and runs to the back door. What awakens her interest is the sound of the word "car." If I say, we’ll go riding in the car tomorrow," she will still run to the back door. The subtleties of language—words, grammar, and syntax—make no sense to her. They do, however, to us.

Have you ever considered the sheer power of language? We conceive an abstract thought, connect that thought to a word and communicate by means of ordered written or spoken symbols. The symbols are arbitrary—I may think "dog" or "perro" or "hund" depending on my native language—but assuming a common understanding of the meaning of those symbols, I can communicate a series of abstract ideas in my mind to others. The process for my communicants is exactly the reverse: they hear and understand my words and turn them into thoughts that become part of their thought processes.

That’s a blessing and a curse of course. Bitter, angry thoughts can become harsh words that leave indelible marks on another person’s soul. On the other hand, kind thoughts about others and the words that convey those thoughts can bring healing and wholeness. Is it not a wonderful thing to cast a hopeful thought into someone's mind?

Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart (mind), and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his (mind). For out of the overflow of his (mind) his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

Words are formed in our thoughts deep within us. Good words come from the good in us; evil words flow from the evil thoughts we’ve accumulated in our minds. If we want to deal with our words it’s not enough to control our words; we’ve got to get our minds right.

I think of those occasions when I have spoken in harshness. The root of my sin was the ugly thought in my mind: I was angry with my brother and unwilling to forgive. Words flowed spontaneously and unrehearsed from my thoughts.

How then can I get my words right? Not by merely controlling my tongue, but by filling my mind with God’s thoughts—thinking about my brother as God thinks about him.

That said, I do well to fill my mind with God’s thoughts  about his children: “thoughts that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse” (Philippians 4:8 The Message).


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