Words mean things . . . This little phrase is one my kids have heard numerous times over the years, probably more than they’d like. And words are among the most profound things about human existence because they allow us to think and communicate.
The profundity of language is built into the nature of the Christian faith. In the first chapter of the first book of our Bible we read, “And God said,” nine times, all in the context of God creating “the heavens and the earth.” Think of the power of one single atom, from which can arise immense forces of destruction. You will maybe then have some sense of the power in the words, “And God said.” He created an entire universe filled with atoms!
We also have the power of words revealed to us in the first chapter of the John’s Gospel when he writes:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Since God had no beginning, I think this is John’s way of saying that the foundation and essence of existence is Word, is communication and thought. Both Genesis and John start with that same phrase, “In the beginning.” I might put it this way: words and communication and thought are everything. They are what makes life possible among persons.
John uses a common Greek philosophical word for Word, λόγος (logos). By the first century logos had a rich and varied history. The Stoics were the first to systematically explicate the concept. If you can stand the philosophical explanation, the following captures what John might have been thinking as he contemplated Jesus as logos:
The fundamental thought of the Stoics . . . is that the entire universe forms a single living connected whole and that all particulars are the determinate forms assumed by the primitive power which they conceived as never-resting, all-pervading fire. This eternal activity or Divine world-power which contains within itself the conditions and processes of all things, they call Logos or God. More particularly as the productive power, the Deity is named the logos spermatikos, the Seminal Logos or generative principle of the world. This vital energy not only pervades the universe, but unfolds itself into innumerable logoi spermatikoi or formative forces which energize the manifold phenomena of Nature and life.
There is power in words because there is power in the Word, and being made in God’s image means we have something of the logos in us. So I love words. I’ve challenged my kids to love words too, and have explained often why they should.
One way I do this is vocabulary. As they were growing up (now 15, 21, and 25) it was rare to get through a movie or TV show without a pause to ask them if they knew what a specific word meant. I still do it. And if I’m blessed to have grandchildren, you can bet they’ll get grilled about vocabulary too.