willbulow's picture


All present "understood what he said as perfectly as if he had spoken the language of each." In my travels I've visited churches where I've heard sermons preached in languages I didn't understand, or didn't understand really well enough to get more than the gist of the message. There's something wonderful about participating in worship in a language we don't understand. I think it has to do with knowing that we're about something that goes beyond our ethnic boundaries, and that is inexpicable, anyway. Not comprehending the words, I often found myself resonating the emotions of the preacher. I usually had some clue about the message, such as knowing what scriptural text it was based on, and that helped me understand enough to appreciate the message on a spiritual or emotional level. Here in America, we can usually find a Spanish speaking church to visit. In most major cities, there are usually ethnic churches. Maybe next time you're travelling and looking for a place to worship, you might seek this kind of worship experience. It calls to mind the mention of the gathering of people from every language and tribe in Revelation.

willbulow's picture

Glossolalia, Miracles, and Babble

"The closest thing I've seen to Glossaliola is television, but we won't get into that." gave me a good laugh.

Glossolalia is meaningless babble to those who don't understand it. When I was in Japan, there was a Pentacostal missionary there, in Zama, outside our U. S. army base, Camp Zama. Some of the other members of the band - there was an army band there and I played in it - had been going to his mid-week prayer and Bible study meetings for a few weeks and I eventually started coming along with them. I became curious about speaking in tongues, because this wasn't part of my expereience growing up going to a Lutheran church. After some conversations with him alone and reading some tracts he provided, I asked one evening at the prayer meeting to receive the Spirit. I didn't speak in tongues at the meeting, but a day or so later I did, when I was alone. What seemed so interesting to me in this experience, and my point, if any, in mentioning it here is, glossolalia is thought of as a confirmation of faith, but my experience was, depending on what I believed, which changed over time, it was either a real prayer language, or it was babble, but in ecstatic response to contact with the Spirit, God, ultimate reality, or it was just babble because I was responding to the cultural mileu in which I found myself. Faith comes first, then we see the miracles.

Spiritual experience is such a profound thing that conversations between those who have experienced something on the spiritual level and those who haven't, conversations about such experiences, even though they're in the same language, are frought with misunderstanding because the parties involved are so different in their domain assumptions because of the difference in their experience.

Here's a miracle that's fun to talk about from both sides of the issue of whether there was a miracle: the crossing of the Red Sea. Very interestingly, the Bible account doesn't say how high the water was mounded up, just that it was a wall on each side. Figuratively, a barrier on each side keeping the Isrealites safe from the Egyptians, but not literally a wall? Some Bible scholars have pointed out that the Hebrew here refers to a Reed Sea, not the Red Sea. So one great preacher said there's definitely a miracle here someplace. Either there was a miraculous parting of a large body of water, or the Egyptian army was drowned in a few inches of water. Or did some Hebrew speakig slaves of the Egyptians escape somehow and just make the whole thing up? My point here is, after the miracle, whatever it was, there was a nation which honored God as their deliverer, worshipped Him, and tried to live moral and God pleasing lives. So, the miracle must have been impressive enough to inspire that change in the people who experienced it. I can't see a hoax leading to the various events, however characterized, that lead to the writing of the whole Bible. Just what happened, we weren't there, so we have no authority to more than a personal opinion. And we have the right to any opinion about the validity of the Bible as witness, too. But, when we see the good things some people are doing with their lives, and the bad things others are doing, and look for cause and effect in why some people's lives are fruitful and meaningful and others not, I think it comes down to what they believe, and how firmly they believe what they believe.

I don't know what happens in a miracle. My understanding of the laws of physics and such is, God maintains an orderly universe, and we gradually are discovering the rules which he enforces to maintain this order. With that understanding of the laws of physics, a miracle is merely God demonstrating that those laws are by His will and He can suspend them, ignore them, when it pleases Him. This isn't like, oops, something's gone wrong in the universe and there's a miracle to correct it. It's more like the loving parent putting on the light at night to show the child that there's nothing to be afraid of, Mother or Father is in control and all is well.

What's important about miracles isn't exactly what happened and how. The miracle stories we read were for the most part written in a time when scientific verification of the actual facts wasn't given the attention it is by writers of today. I think we get too concerned about "the truth" of events we have no way of studying. Exactly what happened that long ago is, in itself, relatively unimportant. The miracle stories were teaching points. What we need to get out of them today is, what's applicable to our own lives. Saying that often gets interpreted as a cop-out: we don't really believe they happened, so we'll say it's not important that they didn't happen as told. Actually, what I'm saying is, it's not as important what you believe about the miracle as it is what you believe about the significance of the story for our lives today. If none of these things really happened in any miraculous way, if there was never any experience that God is in complete control of the whole universe and that He loves us and has our best interests at heart, then all this is just meaningless babble.

One of the most enjoyable small books I've ever read is G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. He was a great one for driving home a point with humor. In describing people troubled with various choices in belief or lifestyle, he'd sum up each one saying, "They stand at the crossroads." Then he said that if we just stand at the crossroads, we're not going to get anywhere. We have to make choices. This is what separates the sheep from the goats. There's an analogy that can be carried too far. We don't start out sheep or goats, we make choices, and develope habits, and gradually find we're either sheep or goats. Then on the last day, the sheep go one way and the goats go another, and it's eternity.

Bill B.