By Brianna Hines
Have you ever traveled to a foreign country where you didn’t know the language? It can be really disorienting to be surrounded by people who you don’t understand and who don’t really understand you. We don’t often get to experience this in America. English rules supreme here, and we only share one border with a country that speaks a different language. To really get a taste of this feeling, we would have to hop on a plane.
In January 2020, our family hopped on one of those planes and flew halfway around the world to Israel. I have family over there, so we got to visit the Holy Land sans the tour buses. That trip was one of the few times I have been in the minority when it comes to language, and it was disorienting and isolating sometimes. I kept having the distinct realization that I was missing out on so much of what was transpiring around me, simply because I couldn’t understand the words being said.
Being constantly surrounded by people speaking Hebrew or Arabic made me start to miss hearing English all the time. I remember in downtown Jerusalem in particular. My ears would become like some sort of super antennae, and I would be drawn to anyone who was speaking English, especially English without an accent. It was crazy how I would automatically feel connected to those people, even having never met them just because we shared a common language. I must have looked like some sort of creeper, always trying to eavesdrop on the tour groups that would pass by.
However, I was also pretty lucky because I have a whole host of cousins who were taking turns touring us around, and they were very helpful interpreters. Whenever there was any kind of language confusion, especially while shopping for things, my cousins would come to the rescue. I had so much more confidence to interact with vendors in the marketplace because I usually always had an interpreter around me.
There was one time I plucked up the courage to go to a store by myself, but as luck would have it, I soon realized that the checkout person didn’t speak a lick of English. I spent the next 10 minutes soundly humiliating myself and the poor guy behind the deli counter as I used every hand motion in the book, as well as plenty of pointing and saying things much too slowly and loudly, to eventually purchase a small block of cheese. That brought me back to reality. I was a girl in a foreign country with not even 10 words in the language. Maybe I needed more help with interpretation than I thought.
In I John 4, there is this idea of two different spirits speaking two vastly different languages into the world. On the one hand, there is the Spirit of God that confesses Christ and manifests itself in actions of love from those who possess it. On the other hand, we see the spirit of the antichrist that refuses to profess Christ and speaks the language of the world, the language of lust, of pride, and of hatred (I John 2:16, 3:17).
God’s love is like a different language. To those who don’t know Him or have His Spirit indwelling them, the language of God, the language of love, sounds like gibberish. Without God’s Spirit interpreting for us, we would only be able to listen to the dialect of the world.
All of us at one time were fluent in the language of the world. We knew it so well because we had grown up fully immersed in it. It was our native tongue. But at some point, we responded to a new language that sounded very different from anything we had heard before. We didn’t understand the words, but we could tell they were sweeter, kinder, and full of the promise of a different kind of life. When we accepted Christ, we began the process of learning this new language.
Now, anyone who has tried it knows that it’s a lot of work to learn a different language! But unlike duolingo, while we are learning the language of God, we have access to a 24-hour interpreter! For free! No upgrades needed! The Holy Spirit can teach us to understand God’s language. The reason the Spirit can do this is because God sent Jesus on a cosmic exchange program to be fully immersed in the language of the world from birth and return home fluent in both languages, so He could intercede on our behalf. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit took on the biggest interpretation project in the history of the universe, so you and I could learn a new language, a mother tongue of life in a world of cacophonous evil.
The beauty of this interpretation project is that it can go both directions. Not only can the Holy Spirit interpret the meaning of God’s words to us, but the Spirit can also interpret what we are trying to communicate back to the Father. As we read in Romans 8:26-27:
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (ESV)
I just can’t get over the fact that God cared so much about speaking our language He would send His only Son to not only be His Word made Flesh, explaining everything God was trying to communicate through the Old Testament, but also to be immersed in the language of the world from birth so He could eternally and perfectly interpret for us through the Holy Spirit — both directions.
Learning this new dialect of God takes time and effort, just as it would learning any other language, but the more we allow ourselves to be immersed in it, the better we will be able to communicate it to the rest of the world. And if you are like me, we will become hyper-attuned to others who are speaking that same language and be drawn to them. God’s church, spread across the globe, will raise with one tongue a testimony of the Great Interpreter and His love for those who listen to His voice.
Editor’s Note: Join UFC Women today at 9:30 a.m. at Barn (or on Zoom) or at 6:30 p.m. in the church offices for our study of First John. The cost for the study guide is $15. Childcare will be provided for the morning study. If you are interested in joining the Zoom group, please contact Jamie Harms at email@example.com.