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Friday, September 17, 2010

Weekly Trivia Files: Meaningless

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Everything is meaningless!" --Ecclesiastes 12: 8

I've lately wondered if I am boring my readers with all my academic talk. I don't want to make anyone feel shut out of a discussion, or in some way belittled or minimized by my so-called superior knowledge.  The fact is, I know a lot of things, but they are mostly trivia, and this only reinforces Solomon's statement above--education, too, is meaningless.

That said, even the tiniest bit of education, if used properly, can point you toward true meaning.  I wanted to talk about that today.

For whatever reason, I found myself thinking about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis earlier.  This is one of those egg-headed topics that applies to everyone, but no one but a linguist really cares.  Go ahead, you can laugh, but I'm actually going to explain how this useless piece of trivia (for most) actually glorifies God and teaches us what the world doesn't want us to know.

Okay, so in a nutshell (I have no time to teach the finer points) the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis says that every language both encapsulates the perspective a society has of the world, and dictates, to a lesser or greater extent, the way a speaker of that language views the world or even how he or she thinks.  To simplify even further, Sapir and Whorf were saying that language is thought and meaning to each of us, and we can know nothing that is outside the grasp of our language; therefore, speakers of different languages think and understand things differently, and there are no absolutes that reach across language boundaries.

This often is used by postmodernists to teach that there are no absolutes, and, therefore, that Christianity is wrong.  They go as far as saying that it is equally wrong to say that Christianity is better than other religions or that others need to become Christians.  I don't agree.

If it is true that language encapsulates all that we know, then understanding all the languages in the world would give us the advantage of knowing everything, right?  But it is impossible for one person to be fluent in all of the literally millions of languages and dialects, both living (still in use) or dead (no native speakers).  Well, that is, except God.  If God has this advantage, what does that say about God and meaning in this world?

The Bible says that God created this "linguistic relativity" when He "confused the languages" of all the people at the tower of Babel so they could no longer work together on their project (Genesis 11: 1-9).  This is almost like the story of the blind men and the elephant.  Suddenly, everything that could be known, according to Sapir and Whorf, was not shared by everyone in the world.  No one could understand everything, and all knowledge was only held by one individual, that is, God.

Man ceaselessly searches for the truth, as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (Ecclesiastes 12: 12 NIV).  Education is good for a few things, but if you are using it to find truth, you are going about it the wrong way. If you want to understand, if you want to find something truly meaningful in this whole universe, you have to look to God, and fear Him.  God both knows and embodies all truth and meaning, so that those who know Him can know everything that needs to be known--even if we don't have a massive education or a multi-lingual vocabulary.  This is even reinforced in the opening words of the book of John, when he wrote:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1, 14 NIV)
If you want an end of meaninglessness, you have to turn to the one full of truth, that is, Jesus Christ.  Those who know Jesus are not all-knowing for the connection, but through Him all things are laid bare for us to learn.  God reveals the truth and the meaning of life to those who listen to him, and all meaning comes from Him (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14).

Now it's your turn to share.  Apart from the Sapir-Whorf principle, is there anything in your particular area of experience or education, or even within your language, which reinforces to you something about the nature of God that others wouldn't know about? This could be anything from a mathematical, musical, or scientific concept, to an ethnic belief, etc. If possible, could you explain it to us in the comments section?  I'd like to see if I can get enough responses together to showcase them in a post on this topic, so please spread the word by emailing this post, mentioning it to a friend, or whatever.  Just don't spam your friends with this if they aren't interested!  I am looking forward to your comments.