Monday, February 20, 2017

Pass the dictionary! ................ Parables 552

April 18, 1997

Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, said if he could make the world right, he would do it by “insisting on the exact definition of words.”

What a task that would be! Many words and their meanings come to us unconsciously while we are growing. Each carries with it shades of understanding depending not so much on an exact definition but on such criteria as who first presented it, how it has been used, and the circumstances we associate with that word every time we hear it.

For instance, someone asked me if I had “met any Arabs on the beach recently?” He was referring to an incident in a novel, “L’Etranger” but my first thought was a story of the Godolphin Barb, one of the three stallions in the lineage of English thoroughbreds. My connotations for Arab did not match his mental pictures for the same word.

Another example is how we describe snow. Canadians use adjectives such as wet, dry, white and powdered to explain how a particular type of snow looks. However, Inuit who live in far more snowy conditions, have over twenty words for snow. For them, being precise is important. Their survival may depend on it, while ours does not.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for finding an exact definition would be the word “God.” How do we define Him? Do we use the concepts we were taught as children? Do we stick to what Webster says? Or does the Bible describe God in a meaningful, exclusive way?

Some would be quick to say that it is impossible to use mere words to define someone so huge, so complex, so much “other” than we know or can understand. That may be true, but the Bible does give us words and collectively, they do paint a picture of God. By themselves, they are not quite so complete.

For example, one of the most familiar is “Father.” Anyone raised by loving parents will attach positive mental pictures to this word, but where abuse is found, people may draw back from God simply because He is sometimes called our Father.

Adjectives sometimes help. One is “holy.” It means apart, separate, distinct, and carries connotations of being pure, wholesome, good beyond description. Yet there are segments of our culture that hear this word and think “holy rollers” or “holier than thou” and are turned off.

Another adjective is “Almighty.” This word describes a God that can do anything, a God of power that cannot be overcome. While this is true of God, some think of earthquakes and other violent natural disasters. If these are associated with an Almighty God, some will pull away from Him in fear or anger.

A third category for defining God is in His titles. One of them is the word “Jehovah,” a name reverenced by the ancient Jews to the point they feared pronouncing it lest they blaspheme Him. Because of that, the actual vowels between the letters and proper pronunciation have been lost. By its biblical usage, Jehovah refers to the “self-existing One” who is Lord of all, a sovereign God. However, some groups have adopted this name for their own title and thereby limited our mental associations when we hear it.

Perhaps the best way to describe God is referred to in Hebrews 1:1-3. It says: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”

If we take a good look at Jesus, we will know how to define God.

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