Today in Sunday School we talked about Adam and how he points us forward to Christ. We read in Genesis and in Romans and talked about Romans 5 and it was interesting and important and I really enjoyed it. But when we read Genesis 3, I noticed something that God said. Adam told God that he was naked and God said, “Who told you you were naked?” God was essentially saying to Adam, “I’ve never used that word in this garden before. How did you learn that word? I don’t talk about you that way. In fact, the only thing I’ve said about you is that you are GOOD. Who has taught you this about yourself, and worse yet, why do you believe them when I have told you you are good?!”
I have one student I see occasionally who is taking longer than most students to develop his English. He struggles to form simple sentences and often defaults to silence or his native language. He tries, but he is still working on learning his letter sounds and he is now in third grade. Working with him can be discouraging. The people he lives with don’t speak English, and I know his English comprehension is just too low for him to possibly be getting much of what his teacher and classmates are saying all day long. Which means that the only real English he likely hears and understands during most of the day is from me and his other ESL teacher.
But the day after Obama gave his speech to the Democratic National Convention, this sweet boy said a complete, correct sentence to me that I had never said to him. As we were walking back to his class, he said, “Miss H., Obama is no good now.” I stopped walking and said, “I’m sorry, what did you just say?” He repeated himself exactly. I thought for a few steps about where on earth he could have learned that and finally exclaimed, “Who told you that?!” He either couldn’t understand the question or formulate an answer fast enough, so he just went back into his classroom.
I think most parents probably have similar experiences at some point. I know my family has a famous story of my younger brother at a very young age exclaiming a swear word after failing at tying his shoes because he had heard the au pair say it and was repeating it. My parents were appalled. They knew they had never used that kind of language around him (or at all) and they couldn’t imagine where he would have learned it or learned that it was okay to use.
That must be a taste of how God felt when Adam started using sin-language, started feeling self-conscious and stopped believing what God had been saying about him. Since the fall, all humankind has struggled to believe that what God created us to be, what God desires for us, is truly what is best for us. We hear the language of sin and darkness and we struggle to ignore it, to keep it out of our vocabulary. But the struggle is not the end! In Christ, we are new creations. We are re-taught our old language and given opportunities to practice using it every day.
Some days, it feels like it is taking me longer than most students to develop my righteous-language. And often, my response to that is to use my old sin-language, which is so comfortable, or to stay silent, afraid of trying out the little righteousness I have learned. And that can be discouraging, as I know my students understand. Unlike my students learning English, however, in my struggle to learn righteousness I have a teacher who is also a translator, and who has more patience than I could ever hope for. While God cannot tolerate my sin-language and longs for me to speak my new language, Christ stands with me as I learn and speaks my new language of righteousness to God on my behalf when I forget how it goes. Because of Christ, because of his sacrifice for me and my new life as a new creation, my “native language” is no longer sin-language but redeemed-language. And that means that God is still looking at his creation in me and saying “you are good.”
Some days that is hard to believe, but that does not make it less true. I pray that you will practice your new language today with me.