They are one of the things that separates us from the animal world.
There are lots of things that separate us from the animal world. One of the most common quoted things is opposable thumbs. But primates of the animal world also have opposable thumbs it just happens that Humans have more movement in theirs than the primates and so are less dexterous than us.
From a Christian point of view a simple answer is that we are made in the image of God and nothing else is. That however might be a difficult concept for us to grasp and not really a subject I want to get into in this post. However it is all encompassing and so will probably be touched upon even tangentiality as I write this.
“cogito ergo sum” or more commonly known to the English speaking world as “I Think Therefore I Am”. What does this mean? I’m no philosopher and I bow to Descartes whom is credited with this philosophical argument from the 17th Century. But is this a term better associated to God? God calls himself “I Am who I Am” I Am. The self existent one, the self sustaining one, God is “I Am”!
But as we were created in the image of God then this self realisation, (as opposed to self existence), is part of being made in His image. So yes, “I think therefore I am” is an appropriate stance for us, as humans to take. And this also separates us from the animal world. Do animals think? I don’t know the scientific answer to that question but they do act on instinct. They are capable of carrying out acts according to pre-programmed codes inbuilt into their DNA. Take our dog as an example. It looks to all intents and purposes that at times she is thinking. About getting into the kitchen to see if there is any food available for her to eat usually, but does she think?
I imagine it something like this:
“Ah the kitchen, Karen and Glen are nowhere to be seen, I’ll just saunter in there and see what they have left lying about that I might eat!”
I don’t think so! More likely is that somewhere in her synapses it is registered that on the whole, all things good and tasty come from the room next to where her bed is and so as long as the coast is clear her stomach impulses get to dominate other impulses to her brain and she is in there like a shot looking for food, be it dog food, cat food or any tastes morsels we have absentmindedly left lying about. It’s not thought as we know it, but a set of instructions that has been implanted into her brain that makes her act in this way. How do I know this? Because every time we turn our backs she is acting on this impulse to fill her belly! No exception!
It’s instinct that drives her, nothing more, nothing less.
But mankind, we can reason, we can fathom complex problems we can make decisions based on data from the environment that surrounds us. And since the dawn of time this has been the case. And how do we do this? In the main by using what I have referred to in other posts as a ‘complex and sophisticated code’ called language. When we think we use words to do that thinking. We don’t necessarily think in shapes, colours or images although these form part of our thinking process much of the time. What we do is we think using words. Even to describe his great philosophical theorem Descartes used words; “I think, therefore I am”.
Words or language are an essential part of our being, they allow us to communicate on a very sophisticated level that our animal friends can not do. Yes animals communicate they warn each other of impending danger, a rabbit will thump the ground with its hind leg to warn other rabbits of a predator. Our cats meow, loudly, when they are hungry and the dog whimpers, incessantly, when she is hungry. They are communicating to us their state of hunger. But they are not talking to us. Language, the use of words, sounds and letters that have a syntax to them and its use, is one of the fundamental things that separates us from the animals.
And why do I think this is so important?
Because it shows our connection to our creator, God! We were created by Gods word. Check out Genesis chapter 1. I’m reproducing it here in all its glory, for glorious it is, so you don’t even have to trouble yourself in digging out your own Bible, it is that important:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.
And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky.’ And there was evening, and there was morning–the second day.
And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the third day.
And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the fourth day.
And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.’ So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ And there was evening, and there was morning–the fifth day.
And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
Then God said, ‘I give you every seed- bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day. (NIV). (My emphasis)
Notice in the account of creation God Almighty spoke and it was so. You, me, this world, go on take a look around you reach out and touch something, all this matter was created because “GOD SAID”. Eleven times God spoke and after only eleven “God said’s” this whole vast array that we call Creation came into existence. You see words have power. Words are powerful. Words can heal, words can harm, these aspects of language are a study in themselves and the Bible has much to say about that. Maybe in another post I will take a look at this aspect of words, language and how we use them, but for now I want to concentrate to how significant words and language are to us as Humans.
God communicates to us in many ways but mostly through His Word. The Bible. Even when He communicates direct, God speaks. There are so many examples in The Bible of God speaking direct to people. Today we hear testimony of people whom God has spoken to directly. In my own experience I have heard God speak to me and I am sure those of us who believe, hear God speak to us on a regular basis. You see, we are created in Gods image for his good purpose and the rest of creation exists, inter alia, to glorify Him.
God perhaps more then anyone knows just how important words and language are. This ability that he gave to Mankind, in His image, is central to our abilities and progress as a species.
Let me explain.
At the Tower of Babel mankind in its entirety could speak to each other with one language. We don’t know what that language was, some speculate it was Hebraic in nature but the truth is we don’t know. What we do know is that it was powerful. Check it out here:
The Tower of Babel
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower they were building. The LORD said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’ (NIV)
See that? God said “if as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (NIV, My Emphasis).
Wow! Do you see now the importance of language, how anything we compare it too, like our cats and dogs attempts at communication, pales into insignificance. Why? Because we are made in Gods image! I can not emphasise this too much or too strongly. Words, language, speech, the written word, is vital to an understanding of our place in the great scheme of things.
And what of today? We live in a world that is shrinking. Communication is instantaneous. When I notified you about this blog post, I hit send on my email client and without so much as a delay a server somewhere in the world told another server that you had a new email. The only real delay in that line of communication is how often you check your emails. Social media via apps is probably even more instantaneous!
At the beginning of the information technology revolution, when I was “nowt but a wee lad” I remember watching Tomorrows World on the BBC. how many things did that programme get wrong eh? But one thing that it got right was that information and communication was the future. How has that turned out to be correct. Ask anything and if I don’t know the answer, I know a search engine that can help me find it. I don’t even have to boot up my computer anymore, I flip the cover of my iPad (other tablet systems are available) and within seconds I can ask a question and get an array of answers. It truly is amazing.
However, we still speak many many different languages today, a result of the Tower of Babel incident. But, and this is an important “but”, communication between people of different nations is easier than ever before. English, mostly in its guise as an Americanised language, is almost universal. Where it isn’t spoken translations are easy into people’s native tongues, and visa-versa. You can even log onto websites that with varying degrees of accuracy will translate documents and web pages form one language to almost any other language that you can think of.
What does this point to? Well there is an oft quoted verse in Daniel which talks about people going here and there to gain knowledge (see Daniel chapter 12 vs 4). This is in the context as a sign for the end times. So here we are, blissfully communicating, travelling, sharing knowledge and information in quantities and of a quality never before possible to the extent that it is now. I find it interesting that it is this apparent breaking down of language barriers that has enabled this. Giving words a power, giving communication a force that maybe has not existed since The Tower of Babel. In deed, re-read the passage in Daniel. Notice how it says that when this increase in knowledge occur’s there will be trouble like nothing seen since the beginning of nations. Now there has and continue to be some terrible things happening across the world and obvious example being 6 million Jews exterminated in the middle of the last century. There are many, many other atrocities that have taken place, yet the Bible talks about troubles that are so bad that have not been seen since that event that caused God to come down to Earth and confuse our languages and so beginning the formation of Nation states. Perhaps something to think about?
Finally, I want to make one last point about “Words” and their importance.
Yes, God spoke creation into existence by the power of His spoken word.
Words separate us from the rest of the animal creation and singles us out as being created in the image of God. When we work together in harmony without any language barriers we are, as a species, quite a force to be reckoned with, and in our fallen state that is not a good thing.
So what is the answer? Well, John in opening his Gospel links us right back to the dawn of time and even further back into eternity past (if that is not an oxymoron, which it probably is, but I’m sticking with it anyway). how? Read on:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
You see Jesus is The Word. He, Jesus, was with God, was and is God and made all things. You see, Words, communication, speech, the exchange of complex ideas, all these things are embedded in Gods nature and He wants to share this with you and with me. But most of all He wants to communicate that His Word, in the person of Jesus Christ is the principle aspect of His nature that we should know about. Words, communication are so important that Jesus was and is The Word.
And the writer to the Hebrews said this:
Hebrews 1:1-3 (TNIV)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors 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 also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
Shouldn’t you get to know Him then and if you already do, shouldn’t you get to know Him better?
Below are the words from the poem that is spoken in the middle of the “forever” song in the Kari Jobe concert Majestic. I reproduce it below as I think it has some powerful praise pointers:
“IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM.
SEE MY BRAIN HAS NOT YET REACHED THE POINT WHERE IT COULD FORM A THOUGHT THAT COULD ADEQUATELY DESCRIBE THE GREATNESS OF MY GOD.
AND MY LUNGS HAVE NOT YET DEVELOPED THE ABILITY TO RELEASE A BREATH WITH ENOUGH AGILITY TO BREATHE OUT THE GREATNESS OF HIS LOVE.
AND MY VOICE, SEE MY VOICE IS SO INHIBITED , RESTRAINED BY HUMAN LIMITS THAT IT’S HARD TO EVEN SING THE PRAISE UP, YOU SEE, IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM, THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM.
MY GOD, HIS GRACE IS REMARKABLE, MERCIES ARE INNUMERABLE, STRENGTH IS IMPENETRABLE, HE IS HONOURABLE, ACCOUNTABLE, FAVOURABLE.
HE’S UNSEARCHABLE YET KNOWABLE, INDEFINABLE, YET APPROACHABLE, INDESCRIBABLE, YET PERSONAL
HE IS BEYOND COMPREHENSION, FURTHER THAN IMAGINATION, CONSTANT THROUGH GENERATIONS, KING OF EVERY NATION, BUT IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM, THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM!
YOU SEE MY WORDS ARE FEW TO TRY AND CAPTURE THE ONE TRUE GOD, USING MY VOCABULARY WILL NEVER DO, BUT I USE WORDS AS AN EXPRESSION, AN EXPRESSION OF WORSHIP TO A SAVIOUR, A SAVIOUR WHO IS BOTH WORTHY AND DESERVING OF MY PRAISE, SO I USE WORDS.
MY HEART EXTOLS THE LORD, BLESSES HIS NAME FOREVER. HE HAS WON MY HEART, CAPTURED MY MIND, AND HAS BOUND THEM BOTH TOGETHER. HE HAS DEFEATED ME IN MY REBELLION, CONQUERED ME IN MY SIN, HE HAS WELCOMED ME INTO HIS PRESENCE, COMPLETELY INVITED ME IN. HE HAS MADE HIMSELF THE OBJECT OF MY SIGHT, FLOODING ME WITH MERCIES IN THE MORNING, DROWNING ME WITH GRACE IN THE NIGHT, BUT IF THERE ARE WORDS FOR HIM, THEN I DON’T HAVE THEM.
BUT WHAT I DO HAVE IS GOOD NEWS, FOR MY GOD KNEW THAT MANMADE WORDS WOULD NEVER DO, FOR WORDS ARE JUST TOOLS THAT WE USE TO POINT TO THE TRUTH.
SO HE SENT HIS SON JESUS CHRIST AS THE WORD, LIVING PROOF, HE IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, THE FIRST BORN OF ALL CREATION, FOR BY HIM ALL THINGS WERE CREATED, GIVING NOTHINGNESS, FORMATION.
AND BY HIS WORD HE SUSTAINS IN THE POWER OF HIS NAME. FOR HE IS BEFORE ALL THINGS AND ABOVE ALL THINGS HE REIGNS. HOLY IS HIS NAME!
SO PRAISE HIM FOR HIS LIFE! THE WAY HE PERSEVERED IN STRIFE. THE HUMBLE SON OF GOD BECOMING THE PERFECT SACRIFICE.
PRAISE HIM FOR HIS DEATH! THAT HE WILLINGLY STOOD IN OUR PLACE THAT HE LOVINGLY ENDURED THE GRAVE THAT HE BATTLED OUR ENEMY, AND ON THE THIRD DAY ROSE IN VICTORY.
HE IS EVERYTHING THAT WAS PROMISED.
PRAISE HIM AS THE RISEN KING.
LIFT YOUR VOICE AND SING, FOR ONE DAY HE WILL RETURN FOR US, AND WE WILL FINALLY BE UNITED WITH OUR SAVIOUR FOR ETERNITY! ETERNITY!
SO IT IS NOT JUST WORDS THAT I PROCLAIM, FOR MY WORDS POINT TO THE WORD, AND THE WORD HAS A NAME, HOPE HAS A NAME, JOY HAS A NAME, PEACE HAS A NAME, LOVE HAS A NAME, AND THAT NAME IS JESUS CHRIST!
PRAISE HIS NAME FOREVER!!!!!!!!”