God and Human Language: Can He Speak to Us?

Let’s think about God and human language.  Now, we should recognize that this is an issue the handling of which can (and has) literally filled whole books. So, naturally, what I write here is only a sketch.

So, where does language come from? Is human language suitable for God to use in order to communicate with human beings? Some have argued that human language is not a suitable vehicle, that the limited nature of human concepts (as expressed in human language) provides a hurdle for divine communication altogether. Others have said, in essence, that human language is not a complete dealing breaker in divine-human communication, but it corrupts communication because God has to accommodate to the limitations of our language. This means that some things God communicates are not true in the fullest sense of the word—our language makes that nearly impossible.

Nearly all Christians recognize some need for God to accommodate his speech to “fit” human communication. If God is going to speak to humans he must do so in something less than the perfect “language” of inter-Trinitarian communication. But I don’t see this ultimately as a problem for God’s revelation.

Does God have to “accommodate” his speech for human understanding? Yes, but understanding this within its proper context is vital. I root the need for linguistic accommodation in the Creator/creature distinction. God created humans to reflect him as creatures. We are like him in many ways, but there are major differences. God speaks. Humans speak.  It appears that God created us with some sort of beginner language and original vocabulary (since Adam was able to perfectly communicate with God in the garden). But the development of language is a human construct and therefore not identical to divine communication…and this isn’t a bad thing. By “human construct” I mean a development of human ingenuity in fulfillment of the cultural mandate—linguistic constructs help to order, organize, and therefore have dominion over creation.

None of what I wrote should be taken to imply that the inherent finitude of human language somehow limits God’s ability to successfully communicate to his creatures. This finitude cannot ultimately gag God because it is a construct of human beings, and humans are image-bearers of the infinite-personal speaking God. Finally, all this means that God’s verbal accommodation is not anthropomorphic (the attribution of human characteristics to God), as if God has to strain to find just the right human words to communicate to us. Instead we should think of human language as theomorphic. As Ps. 94:9 asks, “He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see?” God formed human beings with bodily abilities and characteristics to reflect the abilities that he possesses without a body. God designed humans in such a fashion that our language would naturally be analogous to divine speech and therefore a fit vehicle for verbal revelation.



Posted on July 28, 2014, in Christian Worldview and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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