A New Language

Copyright nofrills, via Flickr

Copyright nofrills, via Flickr

I’ve been studying Genesis, lately, both with my students and on my own. It’s all quite familiar, really, and easy to skim through. Recently, however, when I read Genesis 3, I noticed something that God said.

Adam told God that he was naked and God said, “Who told you you were naked?”

God was essentially saying to Adam, “I’ve never used that word in this garden before. How did you learn that word? I don’t talk about you that way. In fact, the only thing I’ve ever said about you is that you are GOOD. Who has taught you this about yourself, and worse yet, why do you believe them when I have told you you are good?!”

Last year, I taught one student who was taking longer than most students to develop his English. He struggled to form simple sentences and often defaulted to silence or to his native language (of which I, unfortunately, did not speak a word). He tried, but he was still working on learning his letter sounds in third grade. Working with him was often discouraging. The people he lived with didn’t speak English, and I knew his English comprehension was just too low for him to possibly be understanding much of what his teacher and classmates were saying all day. Which meant that the only real English he likely heard and understood during the day was from me and his other ESL teacher.

But on the day after Obama gave his speech to the Democratic National Convention, this sweet boy said a complete, correct sentence to me that I had never said to him. As we were walking back to his classroom, he said, without preamble, “Miss H., Obama is no good now.”

I stopped walking and said, “I’m sorry, what did you just say?” He repeated himself exactly. I thought for a few steps about where on earth he could have learned that and finally exclaimed, “Who told you that?!” He either couldn’t understand the question or formulate an answer fast enough, so he just went back into his classroom without explanation.

I think most parents probably have similar experiences at some point. I know my family has a famous story of my younger brother at a very young age exclaiming a swear word after failing at tying his shoes because he had heard the au pair say it and was repeating it. My parents were appalled. They knew they had never used that kind of language around him (or at all) and they couldn’t imagine where he would have learned it or learned that it was okay to use.

That must be a taste of how God felt when Adam started using sin-language, started feeling self-conscious and stopped believing what God had been saying about him. Since the fall, all humankind has struggled to believe that what God created us to be, what God desires for us, is truly what is best for us. We hear the language of sin and darkness and we struggle to ignore it, to keep it out of our vocabulary. But the struggle is not the end! In Christ, we are new creations. We are re-taught our old language and given opportunities to practice using it every day.

Some days, it feels like it is taking me longer than most students to develop my righteous-language. And often, my response to that is to use my old sin-language, which is so comfortable, or to stay silent, afraid of trying out the little righteousness I have learned. And that can be discouraging, as I know my students understand. Unlike my students learning English, however, in my struggle to learn righteousness I have a teacher who is also a translator, and who has more patience than I could ever hope for. While God cannot tolerate my sin-language and longs for me to speak my new language, Christ stands with me as I learn and speaks my new language of righteousness to God on my behalf when I forget how it goes. Because of Christ, because of his sacrifice for me and my new life as a new creation, my “native language” is no longer sin-language but redeemed-language. And that means that God is still looking at his creation in me and saying, “You are good.”

Some days that is hard to believe, but that does not make it less true. I pray that you will practice your new language today with me.


What is God trying to teach you to say in your new language of righteousness and to forget from your sin language?

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  1. […] used to call my first language “my sin language“. I thought I needed to forget it in order to replace it with the new language of Grace I was […]

  2. […] I talk about learning our new language of grace on this blog, leaving behind our Babel-confused languages and speaking the language that we learn as […]

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