Parts of speech
“Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.” -Zhuangzi
Also known as Zhuang Zhou. He was a Chinese philosopher form the fourth century B.C.
From that, to (two hundred years later) this: “Rem tene: verba sequentur”
That was Cato the Elder speaking. It’s Latin for “Stick with the subject and the words will follow.” Two statements from the annals of History that either contradict or complement one another, depending on where you’re at with either “meaning”, or “words”. Or both.
And then two hundred more years go by and Jesus says this: “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63)
What are the words that God speaks to you? Are you listening? Yes, He uses your native tongue. When I was a kid, I figured the only way I’d be able to hear God speak to me was by hearing a voice, akin to my own thoughts, sounding in my head. And yes, He can do that–when once you’ve so saturated your mind with what He said in His word that a mentally audible voice won’t disturb the tranquility and natural order of what He’s already established for your mental capacity. As such, I don’t often hear Him speak to me in English. That idea–that God had to speak to me one way only–came to me over twenty years ago and it’s taken all that time and more to realize this: God is always speaking in every way. I heard that from my dad and while he used different words to express the idea, I didn’t really know what he was talking about at the time. He would tell me that God was always speaking, that I could be having a conversation with the Lord throughout my day and while I wanted to feel that tether, that umbilical, I really didn’t know how to go about making it happen. He would add on the caveat “And God is always speaking through His Word”. That’s where I’d have a hard time, a disconnect as it were. Because I really had no desire to study my Bible. I’d much rather have played Nintendo or with my Legos or draw. I had a New King James version (still do somewhere) and while I memorized easily the things contained therein, because I didn’t interact with the Lord much, they never began to glow with the life inherent. This tome entitled “The Holy Bible” rests on your coffee table or as an app in your smartphone and within its leaves or lines of code lay the very essence of God’s person as communicated through whatever language makes sense to you. And while the mere words made sense to me, the meaning didn’t come across. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Seeing this quote in light of God’s word, the meaning is Him. And as we can never fully “get” Him, we must always come back down to meditating upon and ruminating on the Word of God. But not to the neglect of Him as a person.
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me that ye might have life. I receive not honor from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.” (John 5:39-41)
What are the words that “do it for you”? Please understand, language is subjective. This is why we have such things as synonyms and finer definitions and elucidation. And what about vernacular? Patois. Parlance. Pidgin. All the way from that–to other languages. Your native tongue. It’s all communicative and it all carries weight. But the words of God? It’s when we use these systems–for lack of a better term–to make real to us what God is saying to us, do we really begin to glimpse the heart of God. And it begins growing in us like a pilot light and as we pour on more fuel and stoke it with loving and worshipful interaction throughout our day, the flame will grow higher. His meaning, His presence and Person will manifest through those words. All the words contained in the Bible are meant to “testify” to Jesus. He was speaking in the above passage to the Pharisees who, He says, “have not the love of God in [them].” That’s what it boils down to.
“The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Psalm 12:6)
Look at the quote from Zhuangzi again: “Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words.” Now look at anyone you love. Do you “get” them? Is that why you love them? I suppose it’s different for everyone and as everyone is literally a world unto themselves, it takes a lifetime to truly know them. This might sound silly but if you take Zhuangzi’s quote too literally as applied to that person whom you love, and as the best word to describe them is their name, you cannot very well forget the words (i.e. their name) when once you’ve gotten them and their meaning–why would you want to? It might be out of context when applied across an inter-relational human spectrum but with reference to God and His Word? You cannot forget Jesus. Everything He is, is behind His name. All the words in the world mean nothing if they’re not pointing you to Him.
“For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:9-10)
Turn it around now, and look at the quote from Cato: “Stick with subject and the words will follow.” How did God reach you? Was it through another person (for me, it was my father)? Through a sermon? Did you pick up the Bible out of curiosity and then receive the Lord? Whatever way you came to know the Lord is between you and Him. But I find that unless we truly delve into the Word–with the Holy Spirit as our guide, I might add–we won’t know Him as He truly is. Admittedly, I may be taking Cato’s quote out of context here because He is talking about literature and writing, after all. If we dwell on a subject long enough, as he’s exhorting in his quote, the words that apply to said subject will bubble and percolate out of you. You’ll be able to form and attach them and create a mold into which the formerly amorphous understanding of the topic can in turn be poured and with which you can in turn explain it to others. But with God? With someone whose only containing apparatus in history has been Jesus Christ, and as Jesus is perfectly elucidated through the Word of God, we must turn to that even whilst we walk with a God (i.e. Jesus) of whom we’ve only received an infinitesimal glimpse.
I find then, that the two quotes go hand-in-hand. Yet Jesus’ words of “Spirit and life” trump both.
By the way, it’s been over two-thousand years, now, since Jesus spoke in the pages of the Bible.
“Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men. Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the Living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” says Paul (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
Think about your life. Think about the name with which you’ve been graced. Do you know what it means? When once you’ve met the One who thought you up and spoke (for lack of a better term) you into this world, you begin to realize that God is indeed speaking all the time. He speaks through your senses and through art. Through, not just the lyrics of a song, but through its hook. Through the melody and the bridge. Through that shade of blue on the canvas and that cloud in the sky that looks like a duck (it’s called pareidolia, but it’s also a duck). Even, dare I say it, through Legos and Nintendo (!). God is and always has been talking to you, calling you closer. Calling you by name. Though it wasn’t until Jesus came and lived and died and resurrected that you could be a position to hear Him speak to you through the Holy Spirit in your heart (and mind, if He so chooses, and you so desire).
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh. That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ…” (Philippians 1:27) The King James synonymizes our Christian walk with the word “conversation”.
Syntax is a real thing, you know. The order in which our words come out and make sense to the hearer. Like language in general, syntax is subjective as well and each one has its own. A language’s syntax reflects on the thought process of the culture. Our’s (American English) is no exception. But think about what God is speaking. God spoke to Adam and Eve. To Abraham and Moses. Fast-forward to Bethlehem: “And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a). God is speaking, but now He’s speaking through Jesus. Everything Jesus did was–how can I say this–God’s thoughts on the matter. Transmitted through His Son. He is now in conversation with us.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; Who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
And this is where syntax comes in again. As applied to us. I’m not going to go so far as calling you a verb or a noun or even a particular word. I am going to say that God wants to speak to the world through you, just as He did Jesus. He wants to speak through His entire body the same way. And as we “walk in the light” (1 John 1:6), God is going to get His message across to this world. That’s what this is all about. God dwells in Heaven and because of sin, the two worlds were separated. God bridged the two through the Law and then through Jesus. And Jesus makes it possible for us to reflect the atmosphere of Heaven onto this world. God is speaking. Not just words, but meaning. This is where Zhuangzi can be quoted again though only up to a point. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Once those who’ve never seen, tasted, heard God, “get” Him–through you–they won’t forget you, but they won’t necessarily need you the same way anymore. You will have introduced them to their Author. And God will then speak to them and through them as well. It’s not called our “conversation” for nothing.
In closing, one more quote:
“Words are good, but there is something better. The best is not to be explained by words. In the end, one returns to a wordless beholding.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
How does this apply? As God is always “speaking” to us in every way, we can do the same with Him. It isn’t just words from us God hears. He hears and feels everything we would send to Him in loving communication. He is not limited by language nor by distance. Because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, we are connected to Him. The slightest tug and you’ll feel a response. As a kid, I may not have felt the connection, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there–it was. It’s a matter of transmitting something, anything to God and building upon that relationship.
And the conversation we find ourselves in today, will continue throughout eternity.