World expanding words…

Posted by on Jul 30, 2023 in Blog | 1 comment

scribbles on wall

Wittgenstein noted that “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” It’s an interesting sentiment. Can I understand what I cannot adequately name? Does a restricted vocabulary mean a reduced ability to enter into the world of another, or my own world? Do I need the nuance of alternate words to more perceptively comprehend what I am trying to grasp?

In Scripture, words matter. God speaks the creative words “let there be…” and reality springs into being. Jesus is described as the Word who was at the beginning, the Word through whom all things were created, the Word who was with God and was God. That’s a very powerful Word.

Use the same word too much and you reduce people to categories. And often that is the world we experience – a world of friends and foes, goodies and badies, heroes and villains. But that world is burdened by inadequate language – it doesn’t really exist. Jonathan Sacks has perceptively noted that part of the wonder of the Hebrew Bible is that in it the heroes have flaws and the villains have virtues. Does that mean it is a story of lesser heroes and kindly villains? Not really. But the Bible does introduce a parade of complex characters, grappling with both goodness and shadows. Is David a hero? You mean that abusive, adulterous, murderer who is described as a man after God’s own heart. Hmmm – there is an interesting story there. And unless you ponder the many different portraits of David you miss what he teaches us about faith, fear, failure, family, frailty, forgiveness, fortitude, focus, friendship, fame – to use 10 f words.

Think of some familiar words – like love, sorry, good. Is it love as passion, obsession, friendship, fondness, loyalty, care? Or sorry as “I was found out” or “awkward that you are annoyed” or “I’ve said sorry, get over it” or “it won’t happen again” or “sorry enough for redress” or “the deepest sorrow, one that haunts me beyond words for what I have inflicted upon you.” And good as “blah” or “slightly above average” or “morally virtuous” or “good enough” or “amazing” or “so good”?

Diving into words requires curiosity and interest. Does what I say about you do you justice? And is there some unnamed part of you that needs new words.

“This is all too theoretical,” you might be thinking. Fair enough. But if you are relationally stuck, or in a situation that seems too complex to navigate, why not approach it with new words? Reframe it in different language. Ask, can I describe this differently – no, not falsely, but with an alternate lens?

For when we language things differently, worlds change. As they did when Jesus suggested that first could be last, enemy could be friend, and sinners could be children of God.

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Jimmy Chan on

To expand the reach of this blog please repost or forward to those who might find it helpful. Reproduce with acknowledgement of source.

One Comment

  1. Thinking about words I am reminded of what I wrote and a CS Lewis quote in a talk I shared.
    It is possible for the darkness of bereavement to be the dark velvet again which the precious diamond can be seen. The diamond I found when Ellis died was the most amazing peace. C.S. Lewis quote from the character in the Silent Planet:
    “I realise it’s all rather too vague (for you) to put into words,” … … … “On the contrary, it is words that are vague. The reason why the thing can’t be expressed is that it’s too definite for language.”

    Yes, we really need to consider the words we use and not reuse till they lose their meaning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Brian Harris

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading