Just do itA few Christian sects speak in tongues (glossolalia) using an unfamiliar language, or else incomprehensible words come pouring out of their mouths. Some people believe this means they have been blessed by the Holy Spirit — others claim that it is heavenly speech. Still other Christians have doubts and questions about glossolalia, arguing that heavenly blessings existed when the church was founded but don’t exist today; they criticize those who speak in tongues as being motivated either by heresy or spiritual vanity. Glossolalia has been a controversial issue throughout the history of the church.
The word glossolalia was first used in the New Testament, and is taken from the Greek word glossa which means a “tongue, dialect, and alien or foreign speech.” There are many different interpretations, but they all have a common element — speech that can’t be understood or comprehended. It could be a language that sounds like “la-la-la-la” or perhaps a foreign tongue one used in a previous life, or even heavenly speech itself. I’d like to investigate what this seemingly indecipherable speech actually means.
There is a native dialect on the Korean island of Jeju that most mainlanders can’t understand — isn’t this unfamiliar, incomprehensible speech the same as Christians who speak in tongues? I’d like to ask everyone again — what’s the most unfamiliar language? What’s the strangest speech of all, from an unfamiliar land, that just makes you shake your head in wonder?
That’s right — the teachings of Christ. Indeed, the words of Jesus in the Bible are like the strangest dialect of all, since no matter how many times we hear them we still can’t comprehend their true meaning.
This was the case two thousand years ago, and it’s still true today — people can’t understand the true meaning of Christ’s teachings.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Whoever wants to be the first among you must become the servant of everyone else.
Not my will, but your will, Father, be done.
Every line is almost rebellious by nature since it’s totally different from the way we’ve been living our lives until now. Who actually lives treating their neighbor as themselves — and honestly, who tries to live with the spirit of poverty? And who indeed would consider themselves another person’s servant — no parent would ever teach their child to live like that! When we hear Christ’s teachings, therefore, it’s like listening to an obscure, foreign dialect — it’s like he’s speaking in tongues. Even though our fingers may grasp the Bible, our eyes may read it, and our ears may listen to it, it’s nothing but a strange, foreign language to most of us, as we can’t comprehend its true meaning.
It’s not hopeless, however, as fortunately Christ’s teachings are not completely indecipherable; by unraveling his words, in one moment they become our own language — the baby chick hatches from the egg. The moment we truly awaken to the words of Christ, they become part of our life. This is the reason that both members of the clergy and lay believers deeply meditate on the profound significance of his teachings — they go into retreats, pray, and share these teachings with others.
It’s also clearly written in the Bible:
It is better to speak five words with clarity than a thousand words in a strange tongue.
We should reconsider what speaking in a strange tongue actually implies. Jesus was one with heaven, so what language would he have spoken? The language of heaven, of course, and the book that has collected all heavenly speech is none other than the Bible. The problem is that for most of us this book is like a compilation of unfamiliar dialectic writings — a foreign text.
How can we translate Christ’s strange speech into our own native tongue? There is a concrete guidebook which outlines Christ’s methodology in a detailed manner — the Holy Scriptures themselves.
Think of my neighbor as myself — see us all as One, consider us as One, act as One.
Be poor in spirit — don’t build anything up in the storehouse of the mind.
Tear down your own, incomplete will — so the perfect, complete will of our Father is revealed.
The solution is in the problem, and the problem is also in the solution. When we do this, Christ’s unfamiliar words are transformed into our own native tongue.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo writer on religious affairs.