When I preach I am often shocked at the disconnection that occurs between the words and that I speak and the words that are heard.
I have often had a discussion with a member of a congregation after church service who is convinced that I said something that I didn’t say.
When the video, tape or other people are consulted and it becomes clear what was actually said, the individual sometimes becomes intransigent: ‘Well, I know what I heard, and it’s not what you say that you said!’
What we are seeing here is a problem of decoding.
The same communication problem operates in the field of genetics. Information is passed from one generation to another via a genetic code. Sometimes, however, in the process of exchange some sort of mutation or change takes place that causes the process to go awry. The information received is not the same as that passed down.
The principle that we must be aware of if we are to receive the exact messages that are sent is that we all ‘read’ messages through our past hurt, our present circumstances and our prejudged expectations. In other words, we screen or decode messages through a filter, and occasionally that filter is not always clean (emphasis mine–mb).
For instance, when I teach on the subject of relationships, occasionally I have read out a list of common words and asked the audience to write down their immediate feelings when I mentioned them. I then compare answers. If I use the word ‘father’, for example, the feelings swing from ‘love’ and ‘security’ to ‘hatred’ and ‘pain.’ Their recorded emotions reflect their past.
What I am attempting to illustrate to them is the difference between denotation and connotation. If we look up the word ‘father’ in the dictionary, it has a literal meaning or denotation, yet it may, as we have seen, have a completely different specific meaning or connotation to each of us. So if I use the phrase ‘God is our Father’ without explanation from the pulpit, I am in danger of being misinterpreted since everyone will decode the phrase differently. On top of the problem of connotation, people tend to add their feelings of rejection, their poisoned perceptions and their ill-informed expectations (Robert Fergusson, “A Plank Across a Stream,” Making Connections That Work, 166-167).
“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is“ (Eph. 5:17).