English is a mongrel language, borrowing from just about every other language in the world, and from every other culture and age. We are a rollicking, messy old peoples and our language is a rollicking messy old language, but it’s alive, ever changing and inventive, so hurrah! But in all the white noise and babble of the modern world, there are some words that have a special quality, and they make me pause and take them out and look at them, slowly turning them over, wondering at their brilliance, at the way they manage to be both unsettlingly intangible and undeniably real. Will O’ the Wisp and yet brick solid. Here’s one of those words…. ‘ineffable’.
I don’t think I’ve ever used it in conversation, but I thought of it this morning, walking with a friend on an empty (ish) beach under a perfect dome of sky. We were mulling over some deep sadness, praying, and looking up at that sky I was struck by the thought of God’s power, the God who created and rules the Universe, this one and only God who we were talking to right then! Two tiny people in a tiny corner of his world, conscious of his love for us in our tiny everyday lives, when suddenly, for me, the double whammy of his power alongside that love was startling. That’s when the word came to my mind. Ineffable. I was too hesitant to use it, unsure if it was the one I was seeking, and the thought “God’s power and gentleness are ineffable” was left unspoken. When I got home, intrigued by this beguiling word, I looked it up. It means, apparently, “too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words.”
Ezzackly, my friends! God’s power and gentleness are too great to be described in words. And the dictionary gave this example of how to use the word in a sentence: “the ineffable Hebrew name that gentiles write as Jehovah” How amazing! That example was given not in a Christian context, but by grammarians and wordsmiths. It was the most clear and concise example they could find.
God really is ineffable. Too great to be captured by words. So great that the God in the Old Testament was never called by his name. But now Jesus has come, the story is told and he comes to us wherever we are, whoever we are, if we only call on him. ‘Call me and I will answer you’. (Jeremiah 33:3)
He’s waiting for us. Think of that, the God of all creation, waiting for us! ‘Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.’ Isaiah 65:24
What will happen then? In the words of Jesus “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls ” Matthew 11:28&29
Our ineffably gentle God. I’m just me and I have no words to take you to him, but my words aren’t needed. He will find those who long for him.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13