God Speaks in Tongues
“For the missionary there is a tongue in every leaf, a voice in every flower.” So stated Canadian Presbyterian missionary George Leslie Mackay as he chronicled how he would use the fauna and other natural wonders of Formosa (Taiwan) to speak the gospel to the natives. He continues:
“Who can tread the ever green carpet of grass; who can see the many-colored flowers and blossoms on plant and vine and shrub; who can look up at the tangled growths of the bamboo, the palm, the elegant tree-fern, or the stately pride of the silent forests, and not be struck by the harmony of God’s work and Word? Understanding something of the flora of Formosa, what missionary would not be a better man, the bearer of a richer evangel?” -Mackay, From Far Formosa
Everywhere God’s voice is heard. Each object and subject and situation are echoes of His Word. His tongues are speaking in languages we must learn first to hear then interpret. As we do so, we can use our days to be “the bearer of a richer evangel.”
“Math is a language,” I would tell my beginning Algebra students. “If you struggle, often it is because you are not reading it correctly.” I would then write on the board something like the following and ask them, “What does this equal?”
Like a scene from the Tower of Babel, I would invariably get a variety of answers. “-8” would come from those who took the -2 and multiplied it by the 4. Wrong – that four is an exponent. “16,” a bit closer, would be found by reading this as “negative two to the fourth power” which, multiplying -2 by itself four times, does give 16. Yet wrong again – that expression above is not (-2)4 but -24, where the exponent only applies to the 2, not the negative sign. The correct answer is -16. How so? You need to read the above more carefully, as “the negative of 2 to the fourth power.” The language of math has rules of grammar, and the math teacher becomes an interpreter.
But the believing teacher does not stop there. He or she goes on to help them also see how math or any subject bears witness to the presence of God. As James Nickel says in Mathematics: Is God Silent? “It is the hope of the author that anyone who reads this book will, perhaps for the first time, hear the voice of the living God speaking in and through the discipline of mathematics.” Everyday is to be a mini-Pentecost of sorts, where in a classroom or an office or a neighborhood or a car we start relating Christ. When they raise their eyebrows and start misinterpreting our spiritual talk as just so much drunken foolishness, we pray for the gift of interpretation and keep patiently working at helping them understand.
That’s why Jesus did miracles. Multiplying loaves of bread or giving the blind his sight were His means of helping people hear the truth that the whole universe is declaring. “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see,” said C.S. Lewis. That’s why Jesus could not only use the extraordinary but the common. He would take water or a door or a mountain or a building or a seed and interpret the divine message wrapped up in each object. It is not only kids who need children’s sermons. Wherever we as citizens in the heavenly kingdom find ourselves, we must assist those around us to give attention to what our multi-tongued God is saying.
In the Sudan a missionary recently recounted some of the struggles of living with dust, dirt and death all around. The she relates how a new native elder preached at a funeral to a group of mourning unbelievers.
“He was holding a clump of dirt in his hand saying, ‘We came from this dirt and to this dirt we will return.’ Then he led them from Creation and the Fall on to Christ and His victory over sin and death.” -Julie Ward, Reformed Presbyterian Witness
With the gospel, even dirt becomes a glorious message of hope. Indeed, the Lord used the lowly dust of the earth to the glorious stars above to show us how innumerable His children will be (Genesis 22:17). “The heavens are declaring the glory of God and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1). Though they have no speech, their utterances go to the ends of the earth. Those around you just need an interpreter to help them know what the stars – and everything else around them – is saying.