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The Language Barrier

The Language Barrier

As I sat in an entirely-too-small airplane seat next to my friend Eric, enjoying my own personal viewing of the theatrical masterpiece, Benchwarmers, I was abruptly interrupted by a loud voice in my ear buds saying something that sounded like nothing I could discern.


I had been quickly thrust into a world where I didn’t understand a thing. YIKES. Less than an hour earlier I was basking in the natural comfort of understanding the people around me. But now Chicago O’Hare and the English language seemed to be far behind me. Even the annoying airport P.A. would be a welcome sound compared to this new-to-me, unrecognizable tongue known as Korean. I had once again crossed the line into a culture that spoke in syllables that I considered strange.

I had run head long into the language barrier.

I spent the next two weeks trying to learn, understand and even speak this entirely new tongue. I would strain to hear our interpreters and observe facial and body language until my eyes ached. I tried repeating with a teenager or two that would humor me and my attempts to speak their language—all with vast amounts of failure and humiliation. If you’ve ever encountered the language barrier, you can probably relate. This invisible wall of sorts continually gets in the way and just makes things difficult. I wanted so badly to communicate with these wonderful people, but most of the time, I was left with nothing to do other than say "kamsamnida " (thank you) and share a friendly handshake or hug.

So I walked away from it all with about three new words in my foreign language vocabulary … and one deep encounter with the incomprehensible. The entire struggle over language left me wondering about the voice of God and about His Word. I started to think of how He communicates with us and how we understand His "vocabulary" in our lives. God’s language isn’t English or Korean; it isn’t even Hebrew or Greek. Some would say, "God speaks and understands every language," and though I can’t completely disagree with that statement, being in Korea brought a different idea to my mind.

That is: God’s "language," if we must call it that, eclipses all earthly languages. He’s not just smart to the point of understanding and speaking all of our languages. He is beyond intelligence and therefore communicates on a completely different plane. It’s as if all of our languages are cups on a flat surface, like a table. They bump into each other, spill into one another occasionally and try, as best they can, to understand one another and cooperate. Well, God built that table. He created the cups. He has formed each one in His image, but they have all fallen short of His glory and cannot grasp His wisdom. God is transcendent over the table; He is beyond understanding and cannot be entirely contained in any one cup alone. By His mercy He has empowered man to receive His revelation, write it down and then translate it into the abundance of human languages, but all of these are still below His heavenly language.

All of this pondering has reawakened my soul to the mystery of His Word and His communicated heart. Even the original Hebrew and Greek are just man’s attempt to communicate heavenly truth in a human way. This is why Jesus Christ, in the flesh, is so incredibly important to us. He is the pure representation of heaven’s “speak.” Remember what John said? “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” or, as it is in the Message, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Wow.

Jesus can be quite a difficult mystery to unravel. He spoke in parables, ran against the religious grain most of the time and even fooled His closest friends and left them guessing what He would do next. Jesus, it seems, is just as complicated as the Word He was sent to fulfill.

Why? I’m not really not sure.

Can we figure it out? Not completely.

So what are we left with? Well, nothing too conclusive other than: KEEP SEARCHING.

This mystery, as Paul said, shall be seen "one day" as in a clear mirror, but as for now, God has left us with his complex Word, the ever unpredictable Jesus and His Holy Spirit to guide us to the truth. Unfortunately, unlike returning to America and the comfort of English, this language barrier isn’t going away. There will be times where we understand more than others, but I don’t know if understanding is the point—isn’t following and believing the point? I think God is after a heart that’s constantly searching for truth as He communicates it, in a vast array of dialects, to the hearts of His children.

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