Apr 17, 2021

Using our Words to Repent

 By Anna Mussmann
“In the beginning was the Word.” Without language, we would not know God.
We would not hear His voice in the pages of Holy Scripture. We would not hear the words of absolution spoken by our pastors. We would not understand God’s creation of the universe or the meaning of the Word made flesh for us.
We would be fully lost and fully alone.
God has given us the gift of language and has blessed us with the task of using it to share His word with others. We are told to send preachers to the lost and to teach the faith “diligently” to our children by talking of it “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
We are meant to be people of words.


Yet when humanity attempted to build a tower to Heaven, God gave us Babel instead. Why would a loving father respond to the sins of His created children by taking away the ability to communicate?
Perhaps the answer is related to another question. Why does Exodus say both that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” and that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? Pharaoh become unable to listen to the divine word relayed by Moses—unable, that is, to repent. His story is bitterly tragic. Likewise, when we reject God, He gives us over to the tragic loneliness of our own darkness.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
To lose the ability to hear and comprehend the Word is to experience the fullness of sin’s curse.
That’s why we should be worried that modern Americans aren’t much different from the folks who built Babel. It’s easy to laugh at Ray Kurzweil’s expectation that humans will achieve immortality by uploading our consciousness to the internet, but aren’t we, too, guilty of trusting modern knowledge and technology to protect us from suffering? Our tower may be less literal, but it’s still a way to reach our own man-made version of “heaven.”
Perhaps, then, it’s no coincidence that our twenty-first century outpouring of technological achievement is accompanied by an attack on language. I’m not talking about small skirmishes like banning Huckleberry Finn because of the author’s vocabulary. I’m talking about the way celebrities, academics, journalists, and activists are perpetually adding off-limits words and phrases to a changing list. In addition, they tell us that many ordinary-sounding words now mean entirely new things.
Recently, for instance, British midwives have been instructed by the National Health Service not to say “breastfeeding” or “breast milk” because the term suggests feeding an infant with one’s body is a feminine activity involving the use of breasts. “Chestfeeding” or “human milk” are supposedly more accurate and inclusive. No doubt, however, the terminology will continue to evolve—“chestfeeding” may well be an offensive phrase someday.
Consider also the modern urge to alter the language of the Bible. One of the most obvious examples is gender-neutral language. Unfortunately, meddling with Scripture alters its meaning; as for instance when you replace “masculine singular” references in the psalms with a plural “they,” as some translations do, and destroy the reader’s ability to recognize prophesies of Christ.
Politically-correct babel is isolating. Writer Stella Morabito says that “as our speech becomes more restricted, we end up more separated from one another,” because “political correctness is primarily a tool for crushing people’s ability to have open conversations in friendship and mutual respect.”
We are tempted, of course, to think this is a problem for other people—a snare for the woke and the sinful.
But what if God is doing this? On purpose? What if we are looking at the judgement of a righteous God? We, too, are part of this generation, and we, too, are sinners. We demonstrate nothing but our own hardness of heart when we respond with self-righteous resentment against our progressive neighbors for messing up the nice world good people like ourselves “deserve” to have. We aren’t as different from pharaoh as we think.
Our response to Babel ought to be repentance.
God hardened pharaoh’s heart, and there was no happy ending. Yet He is also merciful. We are facing the darkness of a new Babel, but perhaps this actually is the mercy of God for us, because by it we are reminded of our need for the Light who shone in the darkness.
We are people of words. We can use our words to pray, to preach, to teach, to repent, to echo “Amen.” We can do all that because language does not depend on sinners like us for its meaning. The Word of the Lord endures forever. He will bring us scattered, lonely humans into that last day when we—like Adam and Eve in the garden—will see God face to face and know Him fully. To that we say, “Amen.”


After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin, Anna taught in Lutheran schools for several years.  She now homeschools her children during the day and writes in the evening. Anna loves Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. She likes to review the books she reads on Goodreads, and her work can also be found in The Federalist.

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