The words, God “brought them to the man to see what he would name them,” (Genesis 2:19) draws our attention to something beyond the truth that God sees everything. Here is a statement of focus and deliberate study. God wanted to see how Adam would reason.
Assigning names is no menial assignment. The labels we create as well as how narrowly or broadly we use those terms shape human perspectives for better or for worse.
With Adam’s first task in naming animals, humanity began constructing a linguistic framework for understanding our world. Regardless of whether those names promoted insight into biology or promulgated misleading ideas, “whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name“(Genesis 2:19).
The labels we use can either reflect truth or obscure reality. Language reveals what people believe. No wonder God watched Adam undertake this first monumental step. When it came to assigning names to living creatures, God allowed man’s linguistic terms to stand.
Whenever people today affix descriptions or designations to objects, attitudes and actions, those words shape that person’s view of the world. Consider the modern fields of biology or anthropology. Latin descriptions, like homo habilis and homo sapiens, reveal someone’s understanding about the nature of different forms of life and their beliefs about how those living entities are related to each other. Are contemporary humans related to brutish quasi-human ape-like creatures? These particular labels reveal some people think so.
Although God allowed the names Adam assigned to remain, when humanity’s descriptions have distorted matters of spiritual importance, God sent his prophets to correct those misunderstandings. One such example comes from the 8th century B.C.
Some in ancient Israel had profited from injustice, violence and their cunning self-centered ways. Humanity has always been proficient at rationalizing its ways with whitewash. God corrected such gross mislabeling. “Those who call evil good and good evil are as good as dead, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness, who turn bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
If our objective is to live as a disciple of Jesus, we will want to use our language to reflect God’s message. If we do so, we will promote a godly perspective within society, not merely reinforce popular or cultural ones.
If God were to watch how we choose to apply labels to our world, what would God see? When we choose to affix the designations of Christian, baptism, grace, works, salvation, church and so forth to people, actions and ideas, would God see us reinforcing human ways of thinking or promoting a godly framework for how to think?
Language is a gift. How we use it is significant.