CRAZY? MAYBE. BUT ALIVE
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104, John 15:26-27
May 18, 1997 by Tad Mitsui
When the powerful IBM computer, called "Deep Blue", beat the world”s chess champion Garry Kasparov, it ignited a big discussion. The question is: "Can machines take over human beings?" The answer, of course, is "No". We make machines. A creature can never take over the creator. But the fact that this question keeps coming back in movies and novels shows how little we understand the spiritual nature of our being and our relationship with God. The reason why Kasparov lost the game is because he got frustrated and tired, not because the computer was better. The fact that Kasparov had emotions and physical limitations makes him a better creature than a computer, because it proved that he was alive and that made him closer to God. Deep Blue is only a boxful of pieces of metal that is programmed by human beings to very quickly compute all the chess moves ever made by the best chess players. We know that computers are really stupid machines which stop functioning when we handle them wrongly. It does not have the capacity to go beyond the human mind. Computers never understand why we become crazy sometimes.
Computers can not be sad or happy. They just do what they are told. They have no emotions, feelings, or intuition. On the other hand, even a little baby can recognize effortlessly her mother”s face across a crowded room. Something unexplainable is planted between two human beings when they are bonded, which no machine can reproduce. No scientists knows how to make machines laugh, because they can not make computers understand humour. Also machines can never learn from mistakes. But humans can, because we have a storehouse of capacities to convert experiences into insights and wisdom. But the same token, we should understand the happenings on the day of Pentecost not so much as literal facts but as a uniquely human and spiritual experience. Computers also lack the subtlety to translate language effectively or put the feeling into poetry or the passion into music.
When the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in many different languages which only foreigners understood. But some people thought that those disciples were crazy – they probably had too much wine and were drunk. I wonder why some people understood the language, but others didn”t and thought the whole thing was outrageous. The beginning of the Christian church obviously was not a result of a well calculated and planned event like an Academy Award ceremony. It was a happening that was inspired by a mysterious force which no human vocabulary could adequately explain. We must realize at the outset that understanding language is not just a matter of knowing the vocabularies and grammar of a nation. It involves learning a whole culture, history, and tradition. Most importantly, it involves ingredients that makes persons human.
When marriages break up, they often say, "We don”t speak the same language." It is about a break-down in communication. Sharing of whole persons is not happening. A famous Canadian pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, was interviewed by Vicky Gabereau in CBC a few days ago. His mother Keiko was a member of my congregation in Vancouver. The parents were pen pals before they met. She lived in Tokyo and he was in Vancouver. They corresponded for a few years before Keiko came to Vancouver for a visit. A few weeks later they were married. When I met Keiko and John, neither of them was fluent in the language of the partner – Japanese or English. And yet they have had a wonderful marriage. They spoke the same language even though they spoke in the languages of different nations. It was the sharing of emotions, feelings, and everything else that makes a human different from a machine, not just words. And I suspect that a similar thing, which went further than the mere utterance of foreign words, was what happened on the day of Pentecost.
When the disciples were touched by the Holy Spirit, the Bible speaks about strange phenomena occurring, like a sound of a strong wind or a bits of fire like tongues dancing around the room,. It was a powerful experience that went beyond the capacity of any human vocabulary to explain. They felt an impulsive to share the good news of Jesus Christ. So they began to speak the languages understood by those who were visiting Jerusalem. All those languages that the disciples were supposed to have spoken were Mediterranean area languages. They were like Scandinavian languages. If you ask a Swede how to communicate with a Dane, the answer would be something like, "You speak Swedish with two candies in your mouth. The Dane would understand what you say." You sort of get by speaking French in Italy. The same thing.
It finally dawned on the disciples how powerful the message of the God of love was. They were no longer a bunch of frightened people hiding behind doors. They desperately wanted to tell others how wonderful it is to know the story of Jesus. The atmosphere of the room was so charged that the only way to describe the scene was the language of fire and wind. They could not contain themselves. Many of us do the same thing from time to time. When something exciting and wonderful happens, one has to tell somebody; you can not keep it as a secret. A bunch of kids burst into the church last Sunday, and started to tell me about their brand new family van. All of them spoke at once to me, and did not make too much sense. They were speaking about the doors that open on both sides, etc. So I had to see the van in the parking lot. It is not only kids: we all do that. The disciples went outside and started to tell people of their experiences in whatever the way they knew how. I can understand that they sounded a bit crazy.
When the other party does not understand what we want to tell them, we have to learn somehow to communicate. People learned many languages to tell the stories of Jesus throughout the history. I was amazed many times how early missionaries learned strange languages so well and so fast. They translated the Bible, and even wrote dictionaries. Most of them did not earn much money doing so. The tradition of the Pentecost has continued for many centuries. It was not just the question of learning to speak in other people”s languages; it was about communicating messages. Such communication often happens despite limitations in language abilities.
In one sense, the disciples were crazy on the day of Pentecost. It was dangerous to openly admit that they were the followers of the way of Jesus of Nazareth; it was madness to expose their belief about a criminal who was executed for blasphemy, sedition, and subversive ideas. They were crazy. But were they? They were alive with Spirit. We are also alive, not machines. So we do crazy things when we are excited. God help us if we only act in a well calculated logical manner, like a machine.
Machines will continue to make life easier, healthier, richer, and yet also more puzzling. And human beings will continue to care, ultimately about the same things they always have; about themselves, about one another and about God. On those things machines and science will never make any difference; they never will. Machines and science will never take away from those things; Thanks be to God!