The Primary and Secondary Languages of God

Devotion Sharing (3/11) by Hollace Chai, a Global Mission Fellow sent from General Board of Global Ministries:


A week ago, a non-believer friend asked me what might be the language of God. This made me think about this question. Yes, if God has a language as well, what will it be like?


My immediate answer to her question is that I think God’s language would be the simplest kind because of his unconditional love, so that it would be easy for us to understand him.


God’s language should also be quite different from human languages because sometimes, human language leads to division, inequality, and hostility. Language is symbol. Consciously or unconsciously, it can produce biases, for or against certain sub-languages. For example, in some countries, men and women have to use different sets of languages that entail dominant or subordinate representations. The daily use of our words can symbolize certain exclusivist attitude that divides between rural and urban. People who come from agricultural province at times find the city language especially alien and dogmatic. Languages can also be class specific that divides between middle class and working class, or race specific that perpetuates racial hostility through producing many artifacts. Another salient example of the unfortunate bad fruit of human language, can be seen from colonialism and imperialism, where certain foreign languages start to supersede indigenous language, hence creating new preferences and trends amongst nationals.


Different from the risk of segregation and manipulation, God’s language is common and accessible to all. We can actually trace back to bible, Genesis 11:1, in which it says, before the building of tower of Babel, ‘now the whole world had one language and a common speech’. Closer to God’s perfection, the original world has only one language that is understood and shared by all.


So, what would this kind of God’s common language be like? I hope to explain my understanding in terms of his secondary and primary language.


The secondary language of God is that he speaks into our daily experience, especially through suffering.  Famous theologian, C.S. Lewis, wrote that, ‘suffering is Lord’s loudspeaker’. Suffering is a kind of common and concrete experience that we have. It is strong like a protesting from God, and makes us listen to him.


Two weeks before I fell from a jeep during night time when I got off. And because it was so dark outside I could not see anything, so I further fell down to a ditch which is half of my body’s height. When I returned back to my workplace with difficulty and I turned on the light, I saw a really bloody picture of my forearms. Now after two to three weeks, there is still the scar that is visible on that affected area. Sometimes I would ask God, oh why don’t you remove this ugly mark to bring the full recovery?


Now, if we regard language as clusters of symbols. How can the scar as a symbol from God tell anything from the incident? In fact, when we have scar, we are usually already in the stage of painlessness, passing away from the killing pain. If the scar is a symbol and a speaking, it can be: whatever large the pain was, the pain will still go away someday, like now. People perceive happiness as transient, yet pain always seems like prolonged and unending. But then if we study into pain, then we can learn that it has been pain, but now it’s already healed by God. Pain passes.


Same that we can do when we encounter rats, mosquitoes, or cockroaches. How about now then we try to change our way of looking at them? Assume if there’s God’s speaking in our most hated, ugly little things, then it may teach us that, the world or the environment we are living is out of order, either by our fault or societal fault. It appears that it is against God’s creation order, which is meant to be orderly, beautiful, and lovable. So then when we get these words, they serve as good reminders to notice us to replace with order and good stewardship of materials.


And if we start to appreciate God’s speaking in our daily encounters, when we face disasters and calamities, there may be no surprise that God actually again and again told us that, ‘My children , never seek to get control of everything. Beware of our pride!’


Therefore, studying God’s language can actually just as simple as studying hard into the daily common experience that we had. Even in suffering he speaks so loudly. It is much the same like the reason why we have to study language here: we do not aim only to study and recite word by word, but as a matter of fact to understand the subjects that are speaking the language, which is our ultimate aim of learning language. And when we are eager to study language of God, we can also know God more, about his nature, expectations and hope for us.


In suffering, he speaks to us. Suffering is the strong language of God, that enables us to humble down when we deny to hear him. However, the primary language of God is actually, the language of love. In 1 Corinthians 13:8, Love never fails: but whether prophecies, they shall fail; whether tongues, they shall cease; whether knowledge, it shall vanish away.’ This verse has juxtaposes two sides, love, and all others, including predictions (prophecies), languages (tongues), and human knowledge. All other passes while love is still there. Love is the first foremost, and the last, beyond all languages.


Before my study of Tagalog language, when I am still in Harris (my working site), I was invited to meet with Dumagat leaders coming from Sitio Manggahan. Because I cannot communicate in Tagalog, I merely rely on smiling, helping out with chores, like clearing tables and arranging seats, to tell them my eagerness to get involved and show my support. Though we did not share many words in common, but then the language of love steps in to continue to build on trust, comfort and reciprocity, making the relationship prospers.


As God’s people, we share God’s language of love. And this fact can lead to our empowerment, since even at times when we feel so limited to communicate; we don’t need to be afraid, as the language of love does not fail!


God’s primary language as the language of love also helps us understand why it always comes first, and so simple, common and influential. This language is equal and accessible to all, across age, color, gender, intelligibility, etc. It is all because, we are made to feel. The language of love is soft but also concrete. It makes us willing to listen to him. And then we are free to obey because of love.


Lastly, I have three suggestions or challenges for all of us. Firstly, we may start to appreciate the language of God and communicate that to other people, through his primary language of love, and recognize his secondary language of suffering during crisis. Secondly, from now on we can all become agents to bring back unity in our language. For instance, we have to be mindful of our categories that may denote any discrimination, exclusions or subconscious rankings. Thirdly, by establishing multi-lingual competencies, it can help us to expose to different symbol systems, thus reveals upon the biases and hierarchies we may habitually attach to, so as to help us to attain a more balanced world view and work towards equality that god has intended for mankind.