Wednesday, August 15, 2012

God of Language

If you were the Holy Spirit, how would you make an entrance?

Back in the days of the early church, right after Jesus had left, and the Holy Spirit was coming to live among people for the first time- whatever he chooses for his first appearance is going to say a lot about him, and about the nature of how God interacts with humans and what the church should be like.

What did he do? He showed up speaking every language.

Here it is, in Acts 2:1-4. "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them."

And this gets people's attention. Turns out there were Jews there from a ton of different countries, and they were all surprised to hear someone speaking their native languages.

And I love this. What does it say about our God, when the first thing the Holy Spirit does to kick off the early church is reach out to every culture represented there by speaking their native languages?

Do you think those people who heard, who were in Jerusalem at the time, couldn't speak Aramaic (or whatever the common language was- correct me if I'm wrong) and that's why the Holy Spirit spoke in their first languages instead? No, I don't think so.

This means that my God is the God of the whole world. This means that Christianity was, before it was about anything else, all about reaching the nations. All about entering someone else's culture.

In this Christianity, there's no room for complaining "why don't they just speak English?" There's no room for mocking other languages. There's no room for my belief in a god who mostly speaks English and lives in the northern US, who knows that the CORRECT climate is one where it's below freezing for about 3 months out of the year.

Christianity's not an American thing.

Okay, wait. Back up. Perfectnumber, what are you even talking about? Why would anyone think that Christianity's an American thing?

Image source.
Okay, point on the map to where Christianity was started. Now point to the US. On the one hand, I feel like I'm making a profound statement, to say "Christianity's not an American thing," because I really did subconsciously believe it was. On the other hand... seriously, look at the map. Why are we even talking about this.

But I did. Because I went only heard about God through a church full of white Americans. (Maybe I'll do another post sometime about how lack of diversity hurts us like this.)

But my God's not an American.

And I thought I was weird, when I discovered China is FREAKING AWESOME and I want to go there and speak Chinese. I imagined God was completely caught off-guard.

"You want to go WHERE?" Image source.

No. The Holy Spirit's presence on earth began in the form of sending people off speaking foreign languages. Not only does God "understand", this is so much deeper into the heart of God, the heart of Christianity, than I ever realized.

I thought I was asking God, "This is crazy, but can we edit the plan for my life? I know you wanted me to live in the US... I know you don't get it, and maybe it won't turn out as good as your original plan, but I would really like permission to move to China."

And I never realized it before, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Because my God is the God of the whole world. My God has no limits, no ignorance, no racism. And the first thing the Holy Spirit did was send people out speaking foreign languages. Unlike everyone else I meet, God does NOT think it's weird that I speak Chinese.

It's more than saying "God understands. God knows every language." It would be much more accurate to say, "God speaks every language all day long." This is such an essential part of who God is, and what Christianity is. He made the disciples speak other people's languages. He didn't say "well they came to this country, why don't they learn our language?"

And this fact just continues to blow my mind. I could write and write forever. I'm really writing to myself- because I'm still not convinced God's response is any different from the responses I get in church, when I tell people I'm moving to China. I'm still not convinced that God's first language isn't English. I'm still not convinced that God isn't sheltered and naive like me.

So I'll just end this post with my favorite bible verse:

Acts 17:26-27
"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us."