Playing Scrabble With God

Playing Scrabble With God

Almost, Later, Better, Already. We say these words all the time, but to a three-year-old they have complex meanings. As language forms in a child’s brain, how do these kinds of nuances develop?

In reference to a stoplight, my three-year-old granddaughter said, “Yellow means it’s almost time to stop.”

In her longing for warm weather she said, “We can run through the sprinkler later, when the snow is gone.”

Toddler girl playing tea party with a dollAfter I suggested several ideas for lunch she said, “I have a better idea.” She wanted to have a tea party.

When saying goodbye after a fun day of play she said, “I miss you already.”

The mystery of language has always fascinated me, particularly the progression from concrete thoughts to abstract ideas.

Linguists for many decades believed that our “mother tongues” held us captive. If you grew up in an equatorial climate, your language might not include a word for snow. Would that limit your belief that snow existed at all? Probably not. One can imagine the idea of snow by looking at photos in a National Geographic.

Asian winter fashion man in snow mountain landscape. Wearing white hoody sweater with furry hat and gloves.On the other hand, if you were an Eskimo you’d have over fifty words to describe snow. You’d understand the difference between wet snow, powdered snow, crystalline snow, falling snow, fallen snow, snow that’s been on the ground for a week, not to mention sea ice, which is altogether different. Snow would be your world, and so you’d know its many facets and forms.

But what if there was no word for “grace” in your language. Would it be inconceivable? Would it affect how you dealt with offenses? Would there be alienation in relationships? Could you understand the centerpiece of Christianity?

In the late 1700s, Moravian missionaries arrived in northern Canada and discovered that the Inuit Eskimos had no word for “forgiveness” in their vocabulary. How could the Moravians explain such an profound idea to this people group?

Hands reaching for the skyThe missionaries ended up creating a phrase for the concept of forgiveness—ISSU-MAGIJOU-JUNG-NAINER-MIK. This odd sequence of words meant: “Not being able to think about it any more.” They formed an association between “forgive” and “forget” using Jeremiah 31:34— “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Thus the Eskimos grasped the meaning of the Cross and reconciliation with God.

Abstract meanings form because known words build upon other known words. And so people from different cultures can communicate.

IbiliBut language evolves, and maintaining connection with others requires constant learning. If you’ve ever felt left out in a conversation between teenagers, you know what I mean. Words like bromance, chillax, hashtag, and selfie are among 5,000 “millennial generation” words  recently added to the fifth edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, published by Merriam-Webster.

If we aren’t growing in language and communication, relationships suffer. And so it is with God.

Stack of lettersWhat if your father died before you were born and all you knew of him came from a stack of letters and half a dozen pictures? You’d read and reread each letter carefully, looking at the snapshots daily. Still, at times you’d long to experience him in person—to feel the embrace of his arms or hear the tenor of his voice. You’d want to ask him questions…What would he think about this or that? Would he approve of a potential spouse? What advice would he have concerning your troubles at work? You’d study his photograph, longing for it to be a mere window into heaven—a thin place—like a dream or vision where your father could speak to you as though alive. But it would remain just a photo.

Rembrandt's painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son

Rembrandt’s painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son

In the same way, we have the books and “letters” of the Bible to show us what our heavenly Father is like. Great painters have depicted scenes from biblical times to help illustrate our understanding. Yet, if we don’t have a moving, living, breathing experience of God it doesn’t feel like enough. Relationship involves some kind of exchange.

And so God had a plan for that—a better idea, already in place, not for later in heaven, and almost too good to be true…He sent the Holy Spirit.

The first twenty years of my Christian life, the Holy Spirit seemed like a giant angel who served God as a spy, reporting back any misbehaviors going on. I didn’t know that one of His assignments was to help us form intimacy with God.

If you don’t believe me, examine the connection of the early church to God through the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. How did I miss that in all my diligent Bible study?

I’ll tell you how…

photoOne has to believe in order to see.

The Holy Spirit helps us form and develop language with God, taking us beyond rudimentary communication into the experience of deep communion with a Father who wants to do life with us, here and now. It’s like playing a game of Scrabble with God, building off each other’s words, back and forth, give and take, except no one’s keeping score. Do you believe that’s possible?

More on this to come.






  1. That is profound Susan.