The scriptures continually discuss people speaking by the Spirit and being heard by their listeners in their own words or language (e.g. The Day of Pentecost) or in feelings beyond words (“things unlawful to utter” meaning things that cannot be spoken; “groaning” – again things that are felt at an intrinsic level beyond words).

We have a lot of discourse about the tongues of angels, and how God speaks to us in our language, according to our knowledge and understanding. Some of that relates to God not being able to go beyond those limits without denying us freedom or breaking us.

images Paul spoke of how we see only in a glass, darkly – as in at the best seeing through a murky window or a reflection from a surface. That is the closest we get to seeing the spiritual reality that God sees.

The metaphor I have used for this is God as an artist who paints us pictures. But of the paint that God uses, we can only see the colors we recognize, and only relate to the images we have to work with.

If all we have or recognize is blue paint, what we see is that God paints us a blue picture. The more words and concepts and understanding we have, the more colors God has to work with. The more images we can recognize, the broader the communication we can receive.

downloadThis approach fits with studies with linguistics. With kids in communities that use languages without a word for orange, if you give them three balls to play with (red, orange and yellow), then hand them the orange ball, tell them to remember it, and take the balls, fifteen minutes later they will remember the ball as red or yellow. Similar things happen with a teal, blue and green ball for kids who do not have a name for teal, and there is another drill with a red, brown and maroon or wine tie where people remember it as red or brown. Regardless of what you show people, if they don’t have the words for it, they can only interpret and remember it in the words they have.

Realizing this helps me to be more humble. It is one thing to say that Abraham saw things differently. He did. At the end of this days he was a warrior prince, hundreds of men under arms for war only, others who handled his flocks, and living in a society far different from ours. Whatever he knew of God is different from what we know. Different, not lesser. When we read of his endeavors and his understanding we are limited by both the differences in time, space and knowledge that mark the difference in how God would have communicated with him and in the gaps we have in understanding what he wrote that apply to our understanding of Abraham.

images-1The same is true of all scripture and all revelation.  It isn’t just Abraham who is distant from us.  So are Paul, and Peter and Adam and Moses and Miriam.  So are Deborah and Huldah and Joseph Smith and James and Malachi and Elijah.  Some are the prophets God spoke with face to face, others whom he spoke with by visions or dreams or whispers of the Spirit.

Which means that even with direct revelation, even if God speaks to us directly (rather than through recorded messages — the scriptures — or through dreams or the Spirit) we will have blind spots created by our not knowing what we do not know. Even with visions or speaking with an angel we do not have all the colors (or names for all the colors) or all the models (or names for them). God may be perfect, but without breaking us, we are not. We may seek perfection, and by the grace of the atonement find it, but not yet.

So I think on humility and on God as an artist trying to paint a picture for me that is something I can see.  And how I don’t know enough to get the message clearly, regardless of how clearly God speaks to me, unless he breaks me.