aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

On diversity of tongues

My friend Sam asked me how many languages I had in my head -- not how many I could actually speak or read, but how many I had studied or dabbled in, could make connections to when reading an article or thinking about stuff. I had thirteen or so, I think, rattling around in there. I am one of those who gets drunk on words.

Lots of people think it is a disadvantage that there are so many languages on earth. They think it would be much better if we all spoke the same language. This would make understanding easier, they think. But even speaking the same language doesn't guarantee understanding. Understanding anything requires effort and a fair-mindedness that many do not possess. And even when speaking to people who share one's own language, many people make little effort to form any expression beyond curses or catch-phrases.

Meanwhile, every language, every dialect, has its own music. One is all woodwinds, another is strings, yet another brass. The endless rush of words allows for subtlety of thought, and every mode of expression allows for new thoughts to be thunk. The existence of different languages is not an obstacle, but an enrichment. "O felix peccatum Babel," as Tolkien put it.

Which means that when the peoples of the earth utter the praise of God -- which, from an eternal perspective, includes the peoples of our entire past as a human species -- in their diversity and insight they create great beauty and offer it up as their due service. God is honored by being praised in more ways than were possible in only one language. And all the glitter and crash of the different sounds ornament his worship like the gold and jewels and rich fabrics of the temple.

It follows then, that learning the use of language is a worthy study. Not only to learn to use one's own language with skill; the learning of other languages, ancient and modern, is a delight in itself, and leads us to the praise of the Word of God himself, from whose creating all human making proceeds, and whose thought gives rise to all human thinking.

I have often made the point that all the miraculous gifts of God -- the charismata -- are given to the whole Church. Even if no one present has the "gift of healing," yet we all pray for people's healing, every week. Even if no one present has the "gift of knowledge," yet we all practice the discernment of spirits, in every committee meeting (especially those engaged in certifying and supervising ministers). And even if no one present has the "gift of tongues," yet if you could sit on the balustrade of heaven and hear the praise of God from all the redeemed of earth, you would hear the whole Church speak in all the tongues available to them.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen." (Revelation 7:9-12)

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