We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is trueeven in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.–1 John 5:20
In Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the reader is introduced to an amazing creature, familiar to space travelers around the cosmos: the Babel fish. This remarkable fish, when placed in a person’s ear, will translate any language into one that the listener can understand. Adams included a lengthy explanation of how this might function biologically, but clearly he was taking a swipe at one of the conventions of science fiction.
After all, how did Captain Kirk and Captain Picard manage to speak with all of those various aliens on Star Trek. How did the Klingons speak with the humans, who then spoke with the Romulans, who then spoke with the Cardassians? (And why do I remember all of these names?) In the TV mindset, the solution was simple. Star Trek people had a universal translator, which rendered all language into English for and English-speaking user. (Somehow, despite the presence of the translator, various people could still manage to speak untranslated Klingon, but that’s a different matter.)
The reality that makes the Babel fish and the universal translator necessary is that people on far-flung planets will probably struggle to speak with one another should they ever meet. When you can’t speak with another party, the dramatic possibilities remain distinctly limited. What’s a sci-fi writer to do? Invent a translating device.
It is just as absurd to believe that we could speak intelligibly to the inhabitants of Betelgeuse 9, should we meet them, as it is to believe we can converse meaningfully with dogs and cats. While my dog, Kate, understands a few words–“go to bed,” “go outside,” “go downstairs”–I have noticed a distinct lack of comprehension when the conversation goes to relative merits of musical styles or my haircut. Intelligent “people” from different planets might well learn to speak to each other, but I’m never going to have a converation with Kate.
Isn’t it nearly that ridiculous to believe that I can truly converse with God on God’s level? Sure, I can understand a few things. Kate thinks she understands me pretty well, I’m sure, but she doesn’t. Barring some sort of divine help, I’m never going to really understand God.
But, happy day, such divine help is at hand. John tells us that Jesus has come and “given us understanding.” We like to think we understand on our own, but we don’t. Had Christ not come and given us God’s version of the Babel fish, we’d be just as clueless as Kate, wagging our tails and responding to whistles, but never truly “getting it.”