The Meaning of Words – The Word of God

It is this Word, this truth, and no other, upon which the salvation of the world depends.

Words have meaning. Words are the “names” we give to things that describe and define their meaning. We see the power and importance of naming in the Book of Genesis, before the fall, when, “God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them: whatever the man called each living creature was then its name. The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals…” (Gen. 2:19-20).

To demonstrate the importance of the meaning of words, let me use an old Chinese story. It tells of a young prince who is about to become the emperor. He is asked by a courtier what he is going to do to repair the empire. The young prince responded, “I intend to restore the meaning of words.” The implication here is that the empire was falling apart because words had lost their meanings. This little vignette is as instructive as it is applicable to our own time. The meaning of words has become endangered in our times too. Words have had their meaning distorted, watered down, or changed so completely that they have lost their meaning and the result is mass confusion and chaos that leads to endless dissent and division.

Let’s do a thought exercise here. Is it possible that because of massive and growing numbers of people who no longer believe in God, that there is no longer a common understanding of reality, or eternal things like truth, goodness, and beauty? The various philosophies of relativism that are currently shaping the understanding of words for growing numbers of people today have so distorted the meaning of words that they no longer have any common, or universal meaning. For example, the word “truth”. Today, a great many people no longer believe that truth is universal, that is, true in all times and in all places, but rather that it is determined by the individual alone. This distortion of the meaning of the word truth has become dominant in our social and political realms today and, sadly, it is entering the realm of the Church too.

As Christian believers, our understanding of truth, goodness, beauty, love, and justice comes from our belief in the Word of God, Jesus Christ. Where do we get this idea? From the beginning of John’s Gospel, of course. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” This “Word” that John is writing about is the Word that encompasses all of reality, the Word that names and gives meaning to all that is true, good, beautiful, and just, once and for all time. In this Word, Jesus Christ, all that is real, true, good, and beautiful finds its genesis and its goal, its fullest meaning. In other words all meaning is intimately tied to this Word, the Word of God.

The Word of God is the source and the goal of all reality. Truth exists only in reality. But when words no longer bear meaning, or their meaning is so shaped by worldly agendas that they become plastic, ephemeral, finite and fungible, reality is lost and anything goes. Truth is being abandoned and all too often what presents itself as truth today is, in reality, merely lies dressed in attractive, immediately gratifying fluff.

This age is starving for truth and looking for it in all the wrong places. As Christians we are challenged by Jesus to live the truth of the Word of God openly, courageously, and joyfully in the midst of the world’s many distorted and seemingly attractive lies. We are to be a contradiction to the “wisdoms” of the world, just as Jesus was. And we are to expect no less of a reception than he got from the political, social, and religious powers of his day. But it is in our humble submission to the Word of God, and our willingness to live it out in the world, no matter the cost, that opens the world to his abundant and generous Grace. It is this Word, this truth, and no other, upon which the salvation of the world depends.

Subscribe to Faith HUB