“They’re not worms, Grandad; they’re spaghetti!” Zach smiled at me; it was a smile that said ‘poor Grandad, he can’t tell the difference between worms and spaghetti’. My smile said ‘poor Zach, he doesn’t yet understand nuance and intimation…’ The whole conversation had been sparked by Zach’s eating style: “Zach, why are there worms under your seat?” “They’re not worms, Grandad; they’re spaghetti.” “Hmmm, but how did they get there?” “From my plate, Grandad.” Zach’s response was utterly guileless; there was no understanding whatsoever that I was encouraging a degree of self-analysis, that a pile of spaghetti under his chair was less than desirable, that I was looking for a commitment to eat more neatly in the future, perhaps even an offer to clear up the mess. As an exercise in communication, it utterly missed the point.
Communication is one of those great barriers we never really fully succeed in crossing. Maayana is coming up to two, and like all the children of her age, she has a lot to say but only a marginal chance of making her point. Ben at 18 months has a small cluster of words, but makes most of his requests by pointing and uttering a ubiquitous guttural sound. Mayaana has a lot more assigned sounds, but needs an interpreter for most people to even realise that the sounds have a pattern. Zach at 4 and Aedan as a rising 4 can have an extended conversation, but it is very much on the factual level. They are still struggling to describe their inner feelings except with laughs, sulks, cries and occasionally rage.
Communication at more than a factual level and self-recognition, self-understanding is part of being human. A cat, a bird, a dog – and even a small baby – will see an image in the mirror of another cat, bird, dog or baby, and respond accordingly. Very swiftly, the baby moves on, able to recognise their own image – and that of others; Ben was only a few months old when he could point to the photos of himself and his parents, uncles, aunts and cousins, and accurately point to the person. Even more intriguingly, he recognised our children from a photo taken around 15 years ago, even though they still had young faces instead of adult faces.
Communicating what we see, feel, understand, sharing our view and perspective – this is a truly advanced skill which quite often we feel we have never fully mastered. How many arguments between married and courting couples, if they are resolved, end with ‘…but I thought you meant… I didn’t understand what you were saying…’ Communication is affected by background assumptions: take a bottle of wine to an English couple and you are saying, “Thanks for inviting me to your meal.”, but take it to a French couple and it is “My wine choice is better than yours – use it!”
Telling someone you love them can be a powerful communication, but only if it is backed up by the communication of action; “actions speak louder than words”, they say, but very often the action only speaks with words – it needs interpreting. An offered bunch of flowers says “I love you” – or “I’m sorry” – or “The garage was giving these away with petrol!” Action and Word need to go together. If God says “I love you”, how do you know? If Jesus dies on a cross, what does that mean – how does it say ‘I love you?’ To understand the action, you need words; to believe the words, you need the action. We need to establish an intimate connection between Jesus and God, between Jesus and us, between our need and his action if it is truly to say “I love you”.
This is precisely what the Bible does – it gives the words that interpret the actions as well as describing the actions: “For God so loved the world (“I love you”) that he gave his one and only Son (an intimate connection between Jesus and God) that whoever believes in him (an intimate connection between Jesus and us) shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16). “All have sinned…” (Romans 3.23); “For the wages of sin is death (our need) but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6.23). “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (an intimate connection between our need and his action) (Romans 5.8). No wonder then that Sunday by Sunday, having listened to His words, and observed His actions, we are led to sing, even shout, “Hallelujah! What a Saviour!”.
Praying that you may see the love of God in the life and death of our Lord Jesus, find in him full reconciliation with our God, and daily rejoice in his effective communication of that love.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,