The Message and the Meaning

He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mk 4:34)

I was recently asked an intriguing question:

What would be the sense in interpreting your own tongue? Why not just 'cut to the chase', and interpret it right-off?

The question goes deeper than just the issue of someone interpreting their own message in tongues. Since it is the same Spirit that inspires both the tongue and the interpretation, the same question holds whenever tongues and interpretations comes. Nor can you dodge the question if you are one of those who holds that tongues have ceased - because they had to be in operation first in order for them to cease. So why did and does the Spirit of God choose to use tongues and interpretations to communicate with his people? Why doesn't he 'cut to the chase' and just give a prophetic message in the first instance. Since Paul makes it clear that prophesy is to be desired above all the other spiritual gifts, why bother with tongues at all?

Here I take a detour into the gospels. Because it is interesting that the disciples asked Jesus a very similar question:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Mt 13:10)

Jesus never spoke in tongues, but it is clear that he had a similarly curious method of communication: he would speak in parables that would be incomprehensible to most, and then later he would give the interpretation. [It is also interesting in the Greek that speaking in tongues (glossais lalo) and speaking in parables (parabolais lalo) are similar constructs.]

Why, as the disciples themselves wondered, did Jesus not just cut to the chase and give the plain meaning in the first instance.

In fact, if we look back through the scriptures we see that this was often God's chosen means of communication:

God did not tell Pharaoh that there would be a famine, but gave him two dreams that Joseph had to interpret.

Even after Gideon had heard the voice of God, and had various miraculous confirmations to the tests he put out, he was finally convinced that God would give him victory through a dream and its interpretation:

As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, "Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand." (Jdg 7:15)

The prophet Daniel was renowned for one who was able to give interpretations from God. Twice he had to give both the message and the interpretation. The first when God spoke through Nebuchadnezzar's impenetrable dream; the second when God chose to communicate through indecipherable writing on the wall.

I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. (Da 5:17)

So we see, it's not a new question at all. Indeed looking at the big picture of God's eternal plan of redemption we might ask the question, "Why didn't God cut straight to the chase and send Christ, the lamb slain from before the creation of the world, when Adam fell? Why the millennia of type and shadow before the reality was revealed?"

Whatever the reasons may be, you cannot escape the fact that God chooses to communicate in this way! One reason may be that it is because he knows that we have to appreciate the problem before we will appreciate the solution; we have to appreciate the difficulty before we will appreciate the deliverance. It could also be that, like with the parables, God chooses not to reveal his most intimate thoughts and feelings to the casual observer, but only to those who make a diligent inquiry into them; those who hunger and thirst for his righteousness; those who seek him.

As Keri Jones says: God does not hide things from his children; he hides them for his children.

One thing is clear. There is something compelling about a mystery revealed. For whatever the reason, it speaks to us far more than if we just had the end message itself. It carries with it the M.O. of God himself!

Therefore tell me the dream, and I shall know that you can show me its interpretation. (Da 2:9)

"Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Ge 40:8)


Ricky Carvel said...

(One minor nit-pick before the main comment: you state that 'Jesus never spoke in tongues', I would prefer to observe that He was never recorded as speaking in tongues. As John said, Jesus did lots of other thing that were not written down...)

I am not convinced by your analogy of parables and interpretation with tongues and interpretation. Even if his hearers didn't understand the meaning of the parables on fist listen, they were probably able to remember what was said and some may have been able to piece together the meaning sometime after the event. The same is not true for tongues. I have often heard folk speaking in tongues and if you were to ask me, even minutes later, what had been said I wouldn't be able to even remember the syllables used, let alone be able to understand any meaning. If a tongue is prophetic then it requires divine inerpretation, if a parable is prophetic it may be understood by someone with 'ears to hear'.

flyawaynet said...

I enjoyed this post, and Ricky's comment as well. In response to what Ricky said in his very last sentence though - Could the same be true for tongues? If you hear a word in tongues that was not interpreted could you go home and meditate on it and seek God for the interpretation?

Much like God opens the ears so we understand His parables, couldn't God open our ears so we understand His Spirits language?

With both, understanding would come through a seekers heart.

Regardless, thanks for the post Chris - I really enjoyed it as I have wondered the same thing also and never stop to try and consider an answer.

Anonymous said...

yes, the ways of God are a bit of a mystery to me! interesting thoughts on to tongues and parables.

the photograph of the four of your family is lovely.

SLW said...

Enjoyed your take on the subject. Proverbs 25:2 is germane. I think the bottom line is faith. God does what he does with us, not in a way for which sight is sufficient, but always in a way that takes faith (and submission) to bridge the gap. I think this is especially true in the realm of the revelatory.

SLW said...

Just to add to the thought, consider the Garden of Eden. Mankind was made fully functioning and yet in ignorance. The angels, on the other hand, were made in knowledge, in sight (so far as I can tell). They're at sea when in the gap (1 Peter 1:10-12). Mankind was intentionally made for faith, which cannot be expressed in sight, but only in the gap between promise and experience (Heb 11:1; Romans 8:24). This pattern of faith saturates everything in our relationship and experience of God. We call it mystery, but really it's just the opportunity to have faith.

Chris HH said...

Thanks all for your thoughts.

SLW, I think you are right. It's all about faith. God created man for a relationship of faith, and all of his dealings with man must be seen in this context.

The intellect only cares about the end result; but to live by faith the journey is as important as the destination.

Sarah said...

Hi, I'm relatively new to this blog. But I thought I'd let you know that I was recently tagged to choose seven blogs to award for being "positive and inspiring". Your blog is among my picks. Thanks, and keep it up!

Anna Sacha said...

hey chris!! some personal updates please!! how r jacqueline n d kids??
me doing grt.

Anonymous said...

To interpret dreams and to know their meaning is really important for us!