The Poverty of Language

I’ve always dreamt about being fluent in Spanish. Unfortunately, I’m not. Not even close. I know enough to survive but that’s about it. My M.Div. work forced me to spend time with Greek and Hebrew. Those are different things altogether. So basically I’m left with my native tongue of English and the struggles that come along with it.

My time studying Greek and Hebrew has helped me come to the realization of a poverty of words within the English language. A few examples of what I mean…

Love
C.S. Lewis wrote a great book entitled, “The Four Loves,” in which he talks about at least four different Greek words that can be translated as the one English word love. So in English, we love tacos, we love our families and make love. What? These are all different things and yet use the same word to communicate these extremely different things.

Church Words
The Church has a number of barriers that make it difficult for individuals to find a way inside or make meaningful connections. A significant obstacle for many individuals is the words we use. Paul talks about the gift of tongues but he also says that if one speaks in tongues and has no one to interpret for the congregation, it becomes quite an unhelpful thing. When we use “big” theological words without unpacking them so they make sense, we might as well be speaking in tongues. John Wesley talked about using a “plainness of speech” that is accessible to all. Even words many of us use without giving it a second thought, Advent, Lent, Pentecost, etc., (*edit: a few words I added based on suggestions from others: sin, accountability, conviction) can be confusing obstacles for individuals. The Church has an opportunity, some might say responsibility, to give meaning to language but if our words echo through empty spaces, we’ve missed the point.

Words like injustice, victim, oppression, privilege, power are struggling to find their meaning. There is a poverty in our words that makes it difficult to communicate important distinctions and have meaningful conversations. Words matter. Let’s figure out ways to use them better.