Friday, February 25, 2005

Seek it like silver

Proverbs [2:1] My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
[2] making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
[3] yes, if you cry out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
[4] if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures;
[5] then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.

I have drooled over two gems[1] for at least four months and tonight I finally bought them:

Both the Old and New Testaments in Greek! The Septuagint, the OT the early Church used, and which the NT quotes! My new Greek NT includes a 150+ page Greek-English dictionary and a sweet index of quotes and allusions to the OT and various other texts. They were expensive, and "not" "technically" "necessary", but what is a lover of wisdom to do? I seek wisdom and learning like a great treasure of silver and gold, which means I'm often prepared to part with my small heap of silver and gold.

My plan? To read the Scriptures first in my Roman Daily Missal and then in Greek. Mind you, I can't understand much Greek at all. But I can pronounce the alphabet, and I have a large enough English and German vocabulary that I am comfortable with cognates and basic Greek root words. (Hey, it worked for this autodidact guy!) Believe it or not, I also intend to read the passages each day in my Spanish TEV Bible. I'd do the same with my Chinese Bible, but I'm not quite "there" yet with Chinese, even with the help of the Chinese learner’s phonetic alphabet and with having read the passage in English. At the same time, in preparation for my reception into the Church[2], I am trying to memorize the Nicene Creed in Chinese to say publicly during the service. Oh, and lest I forget, I will begin learning Arabic on 12 March. It's one of the most evangelistically and culturally "strategic" languages on the planet and I plan to hop on. Plus, it sounds really cool. :gratuitous emoticon:

It all sounds crazy (believe me I know!), but I enjoy keeping up my language skills. More than that, I love getting so many interesting hints and rays of light by a multilingual meditation on the Word. I've never spoken in tongues (glossolalia), in the charismatic sense, but I'm convinced I have the gift of tongues in a less dramatic way. Indeed, I think there is a deeply missiological (missions) meaning to the gift of tongues.

Consider: The basic thrust of Christ's redemption is to reverse and reassemble what was torn asunder with the onset of sin. But Christ's redemptive reversal does not magically erase the scars of sin. He completely heals the wound, but transforms its enduring scar. He transforms the scars of sin into glory, as His own holy, resurrected body showed (cf. John 20:27ff.). As the Venerable Bede says, Christ's scars are "an everlasting trophy of His victory" (as cited in St. Thomas Aquinas, ST III.Q54). Likewise, St. Augustine says in _De Civitate Dei_ (chapter xxii),

"Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ's name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body" (op. cit.).

He gives the old signs of division and death a new meaning of union and life. Hence, for example, although man and woman were rent apart at the Fall, they are reunited in the sacrament marriage – yet without losing their sexual uniqueness. Christ saves man and woman into marital unity, not into androgynous uniformity.

The point of this truth for the gift of tongues in missions is that, while human sin resulted in the diversity of languages, Christ's redemption reassembles them – *yet without erasing their diversity*. The barriers of language are a fruit of sin; but their division will be redeemed in the glory of unity, not the sterility of uniformity. The heavenly vision of multilingual, multicultural worship (cf. Revelation 5:9ff, 7:9ff.) parallels the scars of Christ: signs not merely of sin, but of sin defeated and reversed. The call of missions is to work with Christ as He reunites all languages in the one tongue of worship. As my roommate and I both like to ponder, Christ reverses the tower of Babel! This is precisely what happened at Pentecost when the Apostles began speaking so that all peoples understood them (cf. Acts 2). Their charismatic glossolalia overcame the divisions of language for the unifying glory of God.

The great paradox of the Faith is that while there is neither Greek, nor Jew, nor male nor female, there is Greek, Jew, male and female -- but all are on in Christ (cf. Galatian 3:24ff.)! In the world, our "signifiers" seal us off from one another, like wounds that tear apart the body of humanity, while in Christ, they are the everlasting trophies of His victory. Only sin, justly punished by God (cf. Gen 11:1ff.), could tear us apart; this is our great condemnation. Only Christ could reunite us under with one voice, under one head; this is His great glory.

Where do I fit into all this? Well, as I said, I’m not much of a charismatic “tongues-guy”, but it certainly is part of my vocation to work in a slower, perhaps humbler way toward the unity of all languages in Christ. I want to become all things to all people (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19ff.), which almost essentially means knowing people’s language. The God of the Bible is, as John Stott famously pronounced at Urbana 76, "a missionary God." This is my God, which means this is my call.

At any rate, between the Latin of the Missal, the Spanish of my TEV, the biblical Greek, and the CHinese of Nicea, I should have a grand old time reversing the tower with God!

[1] These images are not to scale. In reality, both books have approximately the same surface area, although, of course, the Septugint is much thicker.

[2] Instead of “mere” chrismation this Easter (27 March), I will be baptized, since I can't find my proof of baptism. I’m not perfectly happy about this, considering I view baptism as a sacred, one-time thing. But hey, dem’s the breaks. I’m not going to quibble my way away from Mother Church at this point! As they say in Vaticanese, "Better licit than sorry.")

No comments: