There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages… They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 (NRSV)
What language will this heavenly host speak, please? I heard New Testament scholar Dr. Amy-Jill Levine ask this question recently, and I can’t stop thinking about it.
In what language would they need to be singing for this not to be some sort of coerced “unity”? Surely not Greek or Latin or English, languages of empire and domination; too many have already been forced to learn them.
Maybe God knows what the humblest language of the world’s humblest people is, and heaven only springs into being when the rest of us learn to live and speak in solidarity with that people. But then … what about those who don’t speak with their vocal chords, who use other parts of their bodies? And what about those who are non-verbal?
Overthinking? Maybe. But language is often a locus of real oppression. And whatever we say will happen in heaven is actually commentary about earth, so it seems worth thinking about.
Maybe heaven isn’t about how we’ll be improved or changed, but about how we’ll finally fit together. Maybe it’s about excellent conducting. Maybe there’s Somebody there who wants each of us to praise in our own way, in our own ranges, in whatever language is written on our hearts. Someone who can perceive the euphony always running under our cacophony, and who can pull from it the kind of beauty that heaven—and we—have been waiting for.
Jesus be a conductor. Probably a producer, too. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.