Gloria Estefan song, ‘Words Get in the Way,’ I think expresses what many of us feel at time when trying to express ourselves; but first the stanza I have in mind—
Won't even start to cry
And before we say goodbye
I tried to say "I love you"
But the words got in the way
This, of course, highlights a common experience that we all have, and that is: We just cannot seem to find the right words to express ourselves.
Being the amateur philosopher that I am, however, I cannot help but observe that love and other emotions are not something that you can just abstract, refine and pour in a bottle from which you can just take a sip from time to time to get the feeling across. Words in and of themselves are elusive and multifaceted; and as such, of course, mean different things to different folks.
As Pentecostals (a term I prefer to avoid being lumped in with all the kooks who claim to have the spiritual gifts and, in my opinion don’t—or at the very least fall into the category of those of whom Christ said, "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you.’” Matthew 7:21-23) … well, in any event, I do prefer to say, as Pentecostals we of all people struggle with trying to pin down an all-inclusive definition of what we sense when under the influence these gifts.
At times, for instance, as in the gift of knowledge, we find it relatively easy to describe what God has shown us when compared to, say, the gift of tongues. With tongues we may feel good about it, but totally ignorant when it comes to understanding what has been said.
Thus, we can readily see that words although necessary in understand may not, however, always be available when trying to communicate one’s feelings.
Words, however, are only part of the equation. Words must be given flesh or if you prefer form, they must be in reference to a common experience or all we hear is “babble, babble, babble.”
So, words at their best are only as good as common experience allows them to be. You may not, for instance, have a notion of what a horse is, if you have never seen a horse, or better yet ridden one. Listen to words about a horse all day long if you wish, but only firsthand knowledge of a horse will bring you closer to what a horse actually is; and even then, certain aspects of the definition will still be lacking.
Therefore, we can reasonably say that words are never any more than approximates.
Let us, now, attempt to take one step beyond approximates. Can we do that? Well, yes and no. Yes, we can experience an iridescent semblance of the reality to which a word may point; however, the ever elusive reality it seems is in an ever elusive retreat mode. We cannot seemingly ever capture the moment, the object of consideration.
That being said, we as Christians are never left abandoned to the mercies of the ersatz. No, there is really something there, it is just beyond expression.
This observation is not without significance, however. I say that because Christ as the living word makes God possible not just as a word, but as an experience. Words are static, lifeless; whereas, the Word is active and full of life.
This to me is the most wonderful part of being Christian. We get to take part in not just understanding at best just a shadow of what The Word means, but we get to participate in the fullest extent of what The Word is and means. It’s not just head knowledge, words. It is actual and meaningful participation in a spiritual reality—that is, Christ the living word.
Is it any wonder then that Paul mused —
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13)”?
Why do I say that? Because God is love, and to understand God, there is no better way than to embrace that love.