Words–Limitations and Powers


Posted on June 5th, by Ken in Revelation 10:1-11. No Comments

I have two reflections from John’s revelation in chapter 10 and NT Wright’s comments. Both reflections focus upon ‘words’. Our words are limited. Our words are powerful.

First, words are limited when it comes to describing God. The revelation of Jesus described in first half of this chapter employs all kinds of diverse words and symbols. Jesus is seen as a “strong angel coming down from heaven, dressed in a cloud” (v. 1). There is a rainbow over his head. His face is like the sun. His feet are like “fiery pillars”. He has a small scroll. His right foot was on the sea. His left foot was on the land. He shouted like a “roaring lion.” Human language is inadequate to depict God as God is in God’s self. God transcends human understanding. God defies all human descriptions. God is beyond all categories of human thought. We can only speak of God with symbols and metaphors. God’s being is ineffable, indescribable, and ultimately unknowable, yet God is intensely real. God is known only as God has revealed God’s self to us revealed in Scripture. There is no way to capture the entirety of God’s being in human language. Our words are limited.

The same is true of some human experiences. Can you describe your first kiss? Or describe the most beautiful place you have been? Or describe the feelings of your first romantic relationship? Or, can you simply describe the aroma of coffee brewing? Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the greatest philosopher’s of the 20th Century, made this comment: “If human words are incapable of describing the distinctive aroma of coffee, how could they possibly cope with something as subtle as God?” It is important to remember that not only is the Book of Revelation difficult to decipher, but God Himself transcends all of our thoughts, images, and words. We need, therefore, to use great care with our words about God.

Second, words do things. Words have power. NT Wright reminds us that prophetic words are not just sounds that come out of our mouth. In the ancient world, words “create a new reality”. Words create, generate, and bring into being that which they speak. Speech-Act Theory in contemporary philosophy, literature, and biblical interpretation has revitalized the idea that words perform actions – words do things. Words make things happen. This is especially true of the words of God. The Book of Hebrews says that: “the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (4:12). God’s words are alive, active, cutting. As John found out, God’s word is bitter/sweet. John eats the small scroll. It is sweet as honey. Then, in his belly, the scroll turns bitter. Wright points out that eating the word denotes the fact that God wants us not just to hear it and read it. God wants us to ingest it and live it. God’s word must become a part of us. It must translate into action. You are I are called not just to proclaim God’s word. The word of God is meant to be demonstrated and incarnate in our lives. We are to allow God’s word to create a new reality within us. It can generate a new reality within us because words have power.

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