Limitations of Language and the Challenge of Being Human

Figuring out how to be a human is surprisingly difficult at times. Our lives are marked by seasons of discovery and inventiveness as we journey through our lifespans. There is no telling how our lives will change, especially if somewhere along the way we commit ourselves to following Christ. As St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” As Christians, we find ourselves in places where we strive to unite ourselves fully to Christ, discover who God created us to be, and do the things God would have us to do during our earthly pilgrimages. God, in infinite majesty and greatness, has crafted every single human being as a unique person.

Only God can know the full depths of what it means for a specific person to become fully alive. God alone is the Creator. God, in mercy, has created humans to be relational entities where we do our best to walk alongside one another while we follow Christ. To say that being a human is necessarily mysterious concedes that God alone has full knowledge of what this means exactly.

The mystery of the human person has been present since creation. Genesis 1 establishes that all people have been created in the image of God where gender, sexuality, our relationships with other humans, and our relationships with all of creation are part of the mystery of being human:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Entire libraries could be filled with writings by humans puzzling through the nature of this narrative in Genesis. Becoming the person God has created one to be is the lifelong task of every Christian where each person must figure out how to be faithful within his or her uniquely individual set of circumstances.

There is potential for transformation every time a person enters his or her prayer corner to encounter God. Solitude has an important place in our spiritual journey. In solitude, God can meet us in our most vulnerable places and open to us new vistas of possibility. God meets us in solitude to convict us, to console us, to encourage us, to comfort us, and to guide us. God often enters into our lives when we least expect it because God, in wisdom, deems it to be the proper time.

Sharing with other people what God reveals to us in solitude can be a challenging process, especially amid cultural expectations that place particular ways of being as higher than others. Cultural tropes abound. Everyone should be married and have children. Doctors and lawyers have the most respectable professions. If you have the capability to earn a lot of money, then you’re selling yourself short if you work at a lower paying job. We seek God’s voice amid the cultural clamor that cries loudly, “Walk this way!”

There are many writers on the internet who decry the cultural clamor around gender and sexuality. We have argued that it’s critically important for every person to have space to discern his or her specific vocation. Others believe that the cultural clamor exists because the world has been remade by people who describe themselves using LGBTQ language. Recently, one has written in reference to us and our blog:

They consciously have chosen not to refer to themselves as a “chaste lesbian couple” because only one of them views herself as a lesbian. The other member of the couple hasn’t decided yet what her sexual identity is. She seems to believe that “Choosing A Letter Is Complicated.”

The author of this piece takes Lindsey’s unwillingness to associate with a specific letter of the LGBT alphabet as a signal that Lindsey hasn’t made a decision about sexual identity and is confused. The author operates under the assumption that LGBT people are seeking to adorn themselves which whatever en vogue description feels right. However, we need to consider the purpose of language. People use language in an effort to communicate something about our own experiences. Language about being human is necessarily limited because we are all scratching at the surface of profound mystery. In solitude, God has shown Lindsey how different facets of who Lindsey is work together in Lindsey’s celibate vocation. Some facets Lindsey chooses to discuss publicly while other facets Lindsey chooses to discuss privately with close friends and Lindsey’s spiritual director. Discerning how to best communicate one’s experience of sexuality and gender, and finding that a complicated task, is not the same as shopping at a boutique. Sexuality and gender are a part of the mystery of being human; we’re not going to have perfect language to communicate what God is showing us about ourselves at all times.

God also has a way of challenging Christians to swim against various cultural currents. We both work as teachers and have encountered plenty of people who believe that “Those who can’t do, teach.” If one is part of a cultural context where a teaching career is viewed as a consolation prize for completing university while being incapable of becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, teachers are bound to find ourselves on the receiving end of negative and ignorant comments from others based upon what broader society assumes about the profession. It doesn’t matter how much one excels at teaching or senses a deep and abiding sense of peace when pursuing a teaching vocation: there will always be people who are absolutely convinced that teaching is a second-rate career and will continue to make erroneous statements about teachers as a whole. Similarly, in conservative Christian traditions, there will always be people who prefer to avoid acknowledging the mysteriousness of human sexuality and insist that nothing good can possibly come from using language other than “man” and “woman” to discuss the complex issue of sexual orientation. Just as it is easier to dismiss teachers as humans of lesser intelligence than it is to have a real conversation about the vocation of teaching, it’s easier to write off celibate Christians who use LGBT language than to consider the possibility that none of us know as much about God’s design as we would like to think we do. It’s also easier to take cheap shots at a person who stumbles over the limitations of language than to make an honest attempt at journeying alongside that person.

Every Christian is a work in progress. All of us are doing our best to discern who and what God is calling us to be, and each of us has different needs as we walk with Christ each day and work out our salvation. Considering that nobody walking this earth today is God, said journey ought to be undertaken with patience, humility, and charity toward others, which necessarily includes willingness to extend grace in conversation. The two of us are not perfect that this. We pray about it, and we work on it day by day. Our hope is that in time, the tenor of conversation about LGBT language will change for the better. But that can only happen if every person involved becomes willing to admit that being human is complicated, and that none of us will have God or ourselves figured out in this lifetime.

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2 thoughts on “Limitations of Language and the Challenge of Being Human

  1. I read the blog entry to which you linked and am praying for the author’s healing expansion of mind and heart to see the beauty,courage and wisdom in your witness and that of the other celibate LGBT folks he so deeply misunderstands and attacks. (And mine, of course, as I am sure I don’t even know most of the places I do the same thing with God’s sweet truth and beloved people).

    • Language in these conversations is often tricky. The same word can have multiple meanings. It’s far too easy to talk past another. Charity and humility are absolutely essential.

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