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Clichés and the limits of language

17 August 2012


From the Revd Peter R. Blackman
Sir, - Christian Piatt's clichés that "Christians should never use" ( Comment, 3 August) and the subsequent letters ( 10 August) touch on the general and profound problem that human language is always inadequate to express divine truth fully.

The free universal use of language is chaotic; and the key word "God" cannot be defined, because it comprehends the human experience of infinity. It is a contradiction of terms to speak of defining infinity.

Attempts to assert the truth by enhancing language with exaggeration, poetry, metaphor, myth, parable, visual art, music, silence, and clichés often distort the meaning with confusing overtones. For example, there is some truth in describing the Bible as "the Word of God", but it is also the words of a series of intelligent, thinking Israelites. The Old Testament was canonised by Jewish leaders, and the New Testament by those of the Christian Church. The description "Word of God" encourages irra-tional, magical use.

All Christian clichés and the words of the Bible itself need to be explained by faithful thought. We should thank wise Christian scholars for doing this work.

If and because it is true that the grace, love, and mercy of God are fully manifested by Jesus Christ, the mission of our Church will succeed. Christ's faithful disciples and especially trained sacred ministers need to be far more aware of the problems and limits of communication by language. Greater understanding than is currently recognised is possible, but "Careless talk costs lives."

25 Turnbull Road, Chichester
West Sussex PO19 7LY

From Judith Filkin
Sir, - Christian Piaff's "clichés to avoid" was the most helpful and healing thing I've read in the Church Times for years.

70 Park Hall Road
London N2 9PX

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