Imagine a castaway on an uninhabited island, whose only hope of rescue is the weather-beaten short-wave radio he’s found. The problem is, the transmitter is fouled up. Both his sending and receiving is confused, distorted, almost unintelligible. Every message is garbled by static. Vital information is lost, and rescue is therefore uncertain.
Now, this is a pretty fair metaphor for human communication, I think. As fallen men and women our transmitters and receivers are seriously flawed. How often what we say falls short of what we would have liked to have said, what we should have said, what we later wish we’d said. We leave things out, or we speak them poorly. At best, we fall short in our speech of what might be called , in a court of law, “the whole truth,” and at worst we give out false information, misleading our would-be rescuers.
Then again we misunderstand or misinterpret the words of others. We mix in our own prejudices and presumptions. We're defensive, and hear insults where none was intended. Or we're prideful, and treat the words of others with disdain. Or perhaps we suffer from self-contempt, so that we fail to trust words of love or comfort, for we can't really believe anyone could possibly love us. In these and a thousand other ways we garble the messages that our sent our way.
You see, our metaphorical castaway doesn’t just have a hardware problem. He has a sin problem. The distortion of his message is sometimes intentional. He can’t seem to help it. He drives away hope with mixed signals, with lies, pridefully declaring that he doesn’t need any help at all, thank you.
In John 7 we see Jesus’s brothers speaking to Jesus in much the same tone as the Pharisees. If you are truly who you say you are, go up to Jerusalem and declare yourself publicly, they say. They seem to be goading Jesus in order that he might prove himself to them. And the Apostle John adds, “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
Later, one of those brothers, James, would right: “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep the whole body in check.” James, no doubt speaking from experience, is pinpointing the central importance of communication in our own growth in righteousness. He continues,
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?”So, you see, our castaway is in a fine predicament. Sometimes he thinks he might save himself by his own speech, but he condemns himself further. But the important thing to remember here is that all is not lost. Our castaway does have a rescuer. One who knows the exact coordinates of his little uninhabited island, and who is coming soon to save and transform. Not only that, who has placed a hope in the castaway’s heart that, despite the bleakness of his outward situation, yet buoys him up and keeps him alive. More on the castaway in my next post.