Way back in Genesis, God scrambled the people’s language because they were getting too powerful. He sent them to different corners of the earth with all different kinds of languages. They couldn’t be united anymore. I know that God wanted to humble them. But I think there was another purpose behind the scattering of the people—to show people the meaning of communication.
Since I’ve been here in Thailand I have realized how superfluous words are. I’m no closer to understanding Thai than I was when I arrived. And as much as I want them to, the people here still can’t understand English very well. What I’ve come to recognize then is that I don’t really need words to communicate. I point and hold up fingers to indicate what I want and how much. It’s pretty effective!
Also, in my classroom, my students and I are continually playing charades. When I’m trying to explain the meaning of the word crawl, I get down on my hands and knees and crawl across the floor while repeating the word “crawl.” When they want their pencil sharpened, they bring it to me and twirl their finger around the tip. When they are naughty, I put my hands on my hips and frown, and when they are good I give them a thumbs up.
What few words we do use are in very broken English. When a student forgets his book, he comes to me and says “No book, teacher.” If they aren’t focused on their work and want to play a game, I tell them, “No finish, no game.” Immediately, their heads bend over their work and their pencils move a little bit faster. I know I’m here to teach them English, but they are young. If I start speaking like I would to native English speakers, they wouldn’t understand me. I explain to them in terms they already know.
I think this is a lesson from God to me. See, God made the universe. It’s safe to say that He knows more than me. A lot more than me, if I’m going to be honest. And He has had much more experience communicating than I have. But God knows that I can’t understand His language. He knows I sometimes can’t even understand my own. He left me with a book full of words about His love for me. But He doesn’t expect me to read that and grasp the full meaning.
So He shows me His love with actions.
A beautiful sunset, a peaceful feeling, an answered prayer. All of these are examples of the actions God shows; His body language. He knows that actions speak louder than words.
In relationships, it seems that words sometimes offer us ways to sound interested while keeping the other person at arm’s length. Actions show that we mean what we say. So wouldn’t loving actions produce a more intimate relationship than loving words alone? I know that actions speak louder than words. I’ve seen with my own eyes here that actions speak more effectively than words. So why do I pray long prayers with large words and an arrogant attitude? Don’t actions mean more? Why don’t I show God my love? I know that I want a deep relationship with Him.
These are all questions I have to answer for myself. I’m not exactly sure what loving actions I can show to God. I know I can start by loving others and treating them like I would treat Jesus if He were here. Like the Bible says in Matthew 25:40, “Then the King will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, anything you did for even the least of my people here, you also did for me.’”
I don’t know all of the answers. I just want to suggest that maybe the purpose of Babel wasn’t just to prevent the people from being united under one language. Maybe it was to teach us how to communicate more intimately with God and our brothers here on earth. Maybe it was to teach us the meaning of communication.
Katelyn Pauls is a sophomore Mass Communication major at Southern Adventist University and is currently serving as a student missionary in Thailand. Read more of her mission stories here.