A Thousand Tongues

by Angie Washington on August 27, 2014

Think of all the languages in the world. Each language captures a unique concept of life separate from all other tongues. The words connected to ideas like family, soul, eternity, intelligence, and even something as simple as meal communicate vast varieties of images and knowledge. These myriad sounds combined in just the right way also convey facets of truth only grasped by those with the ability to process the specific pronunciation produced by the air flowing from the throats of the speakers of that language.

Now, multiply those facets of truth by the thousands of languages alive in the world. Truth, then, in all its facets, exceeds our singular abilities to conceive it in its complete entirety.

God communicates in every language. He is a God of a thousand tongues, and more. He connects with speakers of Arabic and American Sign Language. He delights in the praise sung by silent Koreans and cacophonous Kenyans alike. The prayers of Urdu, Yue, and Aymara reverberate with equal clarity in the ears of our ever attentive, omnipresent, Jehovah Shammah.

Enough

If I can only relate with God in one, maybe two, languages with authenticity and earnest this means I only know the truth of God’s character as revealed in those few tongues. I must concede that I know very little of my God, then, since He is more than capable of communicating with deft proficiency in thousands of tongues. His fluency in the truth of thousands of tongues speaks to the unfathomable depth of His character, the expansive width of His capabilities, and the immense height of His empathic compassion.

He is present

Yet, I know Him. He knows me. The sliver of His being He allows me to know through my limited abilities of relating with another being, is enough. To know that all I have come to know and will ever know is enough, yet that it is infinitesimal in comparison to all who He is, speaks volumes to divine sovereignty.

With supreme wisdom He allows us to set up our strategies, our denominations, and our constructs. And He is present. He permits us to do what we perceive to be appropriate. And He is present. He watches us make moves, take steps, connect with people as our conviction drives us. And He is present. He walks alongside us, arm in arm, as a dear friend.

Who am I to dare try to fit Him into my limited perception? Who am I to exclude any one of His dearly beloved speakers of the thousands of tongues? Who am I to declare my hate as holy, my indignant prejudice as righteous, or my nit-picking as justified?

Sides

The only side God takes is love. He doesn’t draw battle lines and stand in one camp. He doesn’t pick players for His team and leave the rejects as His opponents. He loves every person on every side we humans devise. He loves every person of all the thousands of tongues alive on all lands.

One of my Bolivian friends and I chatted about a little get-together I hosted in my home. The ladies who came for coffee had only one thing in common: we were foreigners. My Bolivian friend asked, “What’s the difference between you all? I know you are missionaries, but I don’t think you are with the same organization? So what do each of you believe?”

I told her, “Usually when we get together we speak about culture stuff, parenting, and whatever is going on in our every day lives. We rarely speak about theology or religion. Sometimes we talk about the social aid aspects of our different projects, but we have an unspoken agreement to not bring up the topic of what we believe. We assume everyone at the table loves God and loves people – and that seems to be enough for us.”

This deliberate avoidance of conversations regarding the lines that might divide us creates a safe space. The defenses come down and inclusion defines us. We acknowledge that passionate commitment to our causes exists. Instead of trying to convert one another based on our various convictions, we accept the differences and lean in with love.

wall of doors

Fluency

Please allow your heart expand with the vastness of all who God is in your life. Know that you are His beloved.

May the love of the Speaker of a thousand tongues be the language of fluency we possess.

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About Angie Washington

Co-Founder, Editor of this collaborative blog site: A Life Overseas
  • Trevor Watson

    An interesting blog Angie that raises within me a sense of amazement that your ‘get together’s’ have no conversation of the love of Christ drawing you together. Paul also seemed to struggle to express the concept of the greatness of God revealed in His saints. He prays that,’The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,’ – Eph 1:18 KJV and again, ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what [is] the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.’ – Eph 3:17-19 KJV. It strikes me that when all of these diverse ‘slivers’ of humanity come together and share The Saviour’s transforming work in their hearts, the dimensions of His love,hope of His calling and riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints is explored and comprehended.Our gathering together in His unity reveals His fullness as we confess Him one to another.We shall see this fullness in His Saints when He returns and gathers us all together in the air to be with Him forever.

    • Hey there Trevor, thanks for engaging in the conversation here. You know, I hesitated about sharing that bit about our get-togethers. I might should clear it up and state that we don’t talk specifically about the theological tenants that form our belief systems when we are in a group setting. Conversations held between 2 or 3 of us at a time tend towards deeper topics of faith and love. The scriptures you share from Ephesians were some of the very ones rumbling around in me as I penned this. I appreciate you adding them here. Peace.

  • Seth Powell

    Hey, Angie! Just read your blog and this is an intriguing topic. I actually preached on a topic similar a couple weeks ago, about the relationship between our culture and our relationship with God, and things we need to look for. I found myself challenged by your blog in a few places, and was wondering if you’d consider writing a blog on “Missionary Culture.” I have to say that I wasn’t completely in agreement with the account of the “unspoken rule” of your get togethers, albeit I completely understand the reasoning. I liked your clarification in your response to Trevor. However, this topic is something that my wife and I have discussed since arriving in Bolivia. We come from a group of friends with a wide array of theological backgrounds, but found that deep discussion and peaceful debate was a refreshing and strengthening aspect of our relationships. I’ve notice that those types of discussions are a rarity here (in my limited 5 months of observation). I’m interested to hear this topic explored by someone who’s been on the field a long time. It would greatly help us to hear your thoughts on what is discussed and what is avoided. I only asked because our understanding of “deeper topics of faith and love” are generally the result of our theological tenants. Just as the framework of my culture can determine the ways I perceive others, the framework of our theology can (and will) determine the ways I perceive Christ and the christian walk. I’m not clear on how your separate the two. Thanks for another blog that is both encouraging and thought-provoking. I enjoy reading them. 🙂

    • Hey Seth. So glad you made your way over here to read and comment. I will take your request for a blog about “Missionary Culture” under consideration. Really, we founded this collaborative blog as an effort to address the dynamics of our lifestyle as missionaries. So essentially the whole blog is designed as a conversation starter about missionary culture.

      I am curious about the initiative you have taken with theological conversations within the missionary community during your five months here in Bolivia. As a newbie you have fresh eyes and I am interested to know the results of your endeavors at bringing up topics of deep discussion and peaceful debate. How’s it goin’?

      I can only speculate from my own perspective why my interactions in a group setting vary from those of a more intimate setting. First of all, the groups get-togethers are relatively few and far between; at least the ones I attend. So when they do happen we want to get caught up with each others lives, have fun laughing (because the work we do is usually very serious and taxing), and relax into an easy flow of English chatting. This is balm, healing, and encouragement to the women who give so tirelessly. Secondly, I tend towards processing life as an introvert. Engaging in a deep discussion or debate, peaceful or otherwise, with a group larger than a handful of people is too overwhelming for me to consider. Unless it is a bible study, accountability group, or other such designated gathering I tend to prefer to process theological topics in a very small setting. Coincidentally, I find myself in those designated settings of spiritual formation more with Bolivians than with my expatriate comrades. When I am with the Bolivians I more readily delve into those discussions with gusto, no matter the group size.

      The handful of people in the local missionary community that I have chosen to trust and open up with all come from very different theological backgrounds. When our heart-to-heart talks steer in the direction of faith and belief I always find I am refreshed, enlightened, and strengthened.

      Again, thanks for joining the conversation. Peace.

  • Richelle Wright

    One of the things I’ve noted – is that when I accept the idea that God allows… if not even encourages… great diversity within His people as far as what the outworkings of the faith He inbirths looks like, and also appreciate how God is not hindered by that diversity but rather uses ALL things to continue to grow and shape each one of us into people who continually better reflect Him – then I don’t have to feel threatened by those who understand differently. When I’m not feeling threatened or like there will be negative (as perceived by me) consequences for different understandings, then I am invigorated and refreshed by such discussions.

    I find that there are relatively few basic doctrines (i.e. I can count on both hands) in which there can be no compromise, but numerous positions where we are given a great deal of liberty regarding what we believe and how that looks. A personal example, for me: Biblical inspiration, inerrancy and applicability to all aspects of our lives and cultures. I tend – generally – to a more literal interpretation of the Scripture; yet I can find discussion with those who tend to see the Bible as more allegorical (considering stories I interpret literally to be parables or…) and more illustrative to be challenging, thought provoking and profitable. I certainly don’t doubt their relationship with the Lord or salvation because of that different position. I would find it much more difficult to engage in similar conversation and find it refreshing without wondering… if someone believed that the Bible was inspired, inerrant and irrelevant. Am I making sense?

    • Richelle, the example you gave about Scriptural interpretation is really good. Thanks for adding your thoughts here. I agree that God does allow great diversity within His people.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    I finally got to read this today, Angie. I wanted to say AMEN to so much of this post and to the awesome C.S. Lewis quote.

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