Some weeks ago, I finished reading through a collection of short essays by Karl Ove Knausgaard (see the posts on “Living in the Concrete” and “The Song of Sincerity”). One of his statements towards the end of the collection got me thinking about language (which is no surprise to those who know me). Certainly, it revealed more than I believe the author understood:
One of the properties of language is that it can name what isn’t here. In this way, what is out of sight can be kept within our lifeworld, and also everything that is beyond our time horizon, both what happened yesterday and what will be tomorrow (Knausgaard, 2017, p. 215).
Focus especially on that last part. Language has the ability to get outside of time: to address not only things of the present, but things of the past and future. That is striking to me, and so I began to ponder where this ability of language originates. My thoughts naturally drifted to the nature of God himself, since the nature and character of the Trinity is behind every part of the world, including human language. God, in other words, is our ultimate starting point for thinking about language (Poythress, 2009, p. 17).
Because I believe that God is an essentially communicative or linguistic being, I began ruminating on the Word (John 1:1) and the truth that God has created (Gen 1; Ps. 33:6), governs (Isa. 55:10-11), and sustains the world by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3). All things in the world actually hold together in that divine Word (Col. 1:17), who took on flesh. This is what I have meant when I have said that our world is worded; it has come to exist, is currently sustained, and will be consummated through the Word of the Father, uttered in the power of the Holy Ghost. (It is for this reason that I believe our world “speaks” of God, Ps. 19:1-4. This is one of the main points from The Speaking Trinity & His Worded World.)
Paul makes a similar point in Romans 11:36. He says of Christ, “from him and through him and to him are all things.” The past (from), the present (through), and the future (to) run through the Word. It shouldn’t be so surprising, then, that human language, which is analogically related to and based upon the speech of God, has the ability to get outside of time: to reference the past, present, and future. Human words have this ability because the divine Word has this ability, but on an entirely different level. Through the Word, all things were, are, and will be. In light of and because of that glorious truth, humans words can point to the past, present, and future. They can point to what God has done yesterday, to what he is doing today, and to what he will do tomorrow. We are everywhere preceded by the speech of God.
So, the next time you refer to the past or the present or the future (that is, the next time you say anything), remember that you can do so because the Word of your heavenly Father, in the unparalleled potency of the Holy Spirit, made and holds together all of time. Divine language built, sustains, and directs time. The syllables of God precede the seconds of history. We speak above and beyond time because time itself was spoken.
Knausgaard, Karl Ove. Autumn. New York: Penguin.
Poythress, Vern S. In the Beginning Was the Word: Language–A God-Centered Approach. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.