Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rhetorical Questions

I have a New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs in the New Century Version (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2006). In the preface (which is the preface to the entirety of the New Century Version), the description and principles of this translation include these two sentences:

"Rhetorical questions in many instances have been stated according to their implied answers. The psalmist's question "What god is so great as our God?" has been stated more directly as "No God is as great as our God."

I understand the intent: to convey God's Word in clear and straightforward language that all may understand the meaning. I commend the intent. Yet this application of a laudable purpose - the rewriting of rhetorical questions in terms of their implied answers - ill serves two important truths or values. One has to do with honoring the author. The other has to do with play of mind in grasping meaning.

As regards honoring the author, the particular style of the author merits respect. This does not mean everything about an author's style is good. Nor does it mean a reader or readers have to like the author's style. It does mean that the author made decisions about how to write, and those should be respected as long as they do not injure good grammar and meaning. Apart from acting as a teacher or editor to the author (in a classroom or a publishing process), we should acknowledge and accept his or her style in the sense that we are not in the business of rewriting the author's work. Translation presents a challenge in that the target language may not be able to replicate satisfactorily stylistic aspects of the source language. Nevertheless, honoring the author should mean we are not free to ignore personal style.

As regards play of mind, there is something about being human such that we love the play of mind in grasping meaning. We love jokes. We love word and mind games. We love riddles. We love questions and exploring and solving. Rhetorical questions in communication function in this way, in this play of mind in grasping meaning. Certainly in much of our communication we state our meaning straightforwardly. Yet we come to points where we desire to communicate meaning with a rhetorical question. And why should we not, if used cleverly and judiciously? A rhetorical question adds emphasis to the point being made. It varies our forms of communication and so augments and enlivens our style. Yet certainly a rhetorical question also intrigues and delights us, even if only subtly or unconsciously, as it engages our mind in play at grasping meaning. And why should it not, even in Scripture?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Death as the Final Healing

Death as the final healing. Yet not our death. Only Jesus' death.

We may pray for healing for ourselves and for those we love in circumstances that afflict us or them. In doing so we naturally desire healing in this life. However, as we desire and pray, we must keep in mind and heart the fundamental principle - and in the cruciform grace of God's salvation economy, it is even a promise and a hope - that only death is the final true healing, in Jesus' death.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Hope is not a manufactured emotion. It comes as a gift from God, through his Spirit dwelling within us, a gift of trust. It stems not from the soil of our life but from the love, goodness, and power of God as incarnated, tested, and vindicated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Begin with Ourselves or God

If we begin with ourselves, then we miss God.

If what God requires of us, or what God desires for us, or what God makes possible for us, is circumscribed by what "I want" or by what "I can", then we are not talking about God, then we have no God. We have only ourselves. We have only what we want and what we are capable of seeing, desiring, and doing.

Yet it is at the very root of God's initiative to and for us that God makes possible and makes actual what we do not "want" and what we "cannot do." God loves us before we love him. God turns to us before we turn to him. And God's loving us and turning to us are absolutely constitutive of sheer existence (creation) and worthy existence (creation pronounced good, then redeemed after sin). These gracious truths are at the very root of God's good news to us.

Monday, October 13, 2008

By the Rivers They Sat and Wept

"By the rivers of Babylon -
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion."

Psalm 137:1 (New Revised Standard Version)

By the rivers of Babylon they sat and wept when they remembered Zion.

Were the rivers of Babylon beautiful, where they sat and wept? Did the beauty of the rivers remind them of Zion, so that they wept? Did the beauty remind them of the beauty of Zion, and was the beauty of Zion greater than the beauty about them where they sat and wept? Or did the beauty about them simply pierce their hearts with the awareness of what they had no longer - awareness of their alienation, their separation from some thing and some place fundamental and essential to which they belonged?

Or were they oblivious to the beauty of the rivers of Babylon all about them? Were they so fixated on some other thing and some other place that they could not perceive the beauty about them? Were they so invested in some other thing and place that they felt - consciously or unconsciously - they had to ignore or denigrate the beauty about them? Did they feel they would be disloyal to Zion, or did they fear that recognition of the beauty around them would undermine the lives they had built on their alienation?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Actions and Ethics

Whatever our action of last resort is, there lies our true ethical position.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Prayer in Consideration of Change

Almighty God, most merciful Father, changeless beyond all human ken, so stretched and wracked are we by this mortal changefulness, through which we ever die, without which we would never live; come close to us in the rising, dying, rising of each day, as you did once in Jesus; and by your Spirit bear us strongly through the changing of our lives, that tomorrow we may wake in him more surely, see him more clearly, embrace him more truly, in the changes the day shall bring; until that endless, endless day, beyond all change, yet ever new. This we ask in the name of Jesus, one with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.