In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. John 1:1-4
As someone who has studied communication and language for many years, John’s use of “Word” in the opening lines of his gospel is intriguing. The Word was God. Through the Word all things were made and without the Word nothing was made that has been made. Communication is not just casual conversation, it’s foundational, spiritual, ritual.
Think back to Genesis. A vast nothingness is transformed into light and sky and sea. How? God said. The waters were gathered to create dry land. How? God said. Plants burst forth from the ground, stars dot the night, the oceans teem, birds take flight, and animals begin to roam. How? God said. Adam and Eve fill their lungs and open their eyes … How? God said.
Words brought forth life. Words brought forth the earth and flora and fauna and humans to commune with God.
Back to the Gospel of John, we see that nothing exists without the Word. Through the Word all things were made. “Reality is not given, not humanly existent, independent of language and toward which language stands a pale refraction. Rather, reality is brought into existence, is produced, by communication — by, in short, the construction, apprehension, and utilization of symbolic forms.” 1
Reality doesn’t exist without these symbolic forms — words. We order the world using language — without words to name concepts and objects, it’s hard for us to comprehend them or talk about them, isn’t it? We give the world meaning through language. We give our children identities by giving them names. And God gave us the Word first, to order the world and give it meaning and identity. Then he shared that practice with us as he invited Adam to name the animals. God used words to create the animals, then allowed Adam to give them earthly names. God spoke life into being, and then invited us to help create meaning in the world.
In some ways, when Christians were first immigrating to the New World and escaping religious persecution in Europe, they were seeking the freedom to communicate their spiritual lives. See, communication is often thought of in terms of transmission: the transmission of information over space and time, the movement of information over a distance. “Movement in space could be in itself a redemptive act … This movement in space [of pilgrims to the New World] was an attempt to establish and extend the kingdom of God, to create the conditions under which godly understanding might be realized, to produce a heavenly though still terrestrial city. The moral meaning of transportation, then, was the establishment and extension of God’s kingdom on earth. The moral meaning of communication was the same.”1
We use communication to extend the kingdom of God, to reflect his image and understand his identity and ours in relation. When we think about the evolution of communication technologies, there has always been a connection to the church. The Bible is a written, Word-inspired book — the first book to be mass produced on the Gutenberg printing press. Newer communication modes have been used throughout history to spread the word of God via radio, TV, now the Internet. We cannot share our faith without communication, without words.
Sermons, prayers, chants, hymns … we are communicating with each other, communing with God in a continuous ritual of naming and calling out and worshipping. I study communication because it is innate to us and we are born of it. There is no life without the Word, for God spoke us into life and then called us into communion.
Reference: Carey, J. (1989). “A Cultural Approach to Communication.” Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. New York: Routledge.