Monday, April 19, 2010

What Language Shall I Borrow?

Some connections (and please excuse the upcoming profanity). I wish I’d kept the issue of my alumni magazine, several years ago, wherein a minister recalled a recovering alcoholic whom he met. The man had enthusiastically declared, something like, “I don’t know what that goddamned son of a bitch is doing, but it’s sure goddamned amazing!” The minister realized the man was referring to God! The man was amazed at the miracles of recovery that he was experiencing. In the article, the minister said that while the man’s language was inappropriate, it was the only language the man had at that time and, therefore, was genuine praise language!

I thought of some scriptures in which people had inadequate and even inappropriate language with which to express their faith. One passage is Luke 7:36-50. The woman who came to Jesus was a "sinner" and expressed her repentance and sorrow in a way which, in another context, would’ve been sexually provocative. This was the only “language” she had, however, to seek the compassion and forgiveness that she hoped he would provide.

Another scripture is Acts 8:9-25, the story of Simon the Sorcerer. I’ve always wondered this is another example of Peter speaking before he thought. Peter is correct: you can’t buy the Spirit. But the man had been baptised and seemed enthusiastic about the spiritual power he’d seen, but he had no other “language” to ask for it other than an offer of money. Perhaps he could’ve been guided to a better understanding--as Philip did for the eunuch in the same chapter--rather than Peter leaving him “put in his place."

Take Jacob as another example. In Genesis 28, he has his dream of the ladder to Heaven. When he awoke, he called the place Bethel (“house of God”) and vowed, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you” (vs. 20-22). Commentators have noted that, although this is not a very mature prayer (I'll do this if God does that), it is an honest prayer, and God did not ignore the prayer--or any prayer--just because it is offered with a inarticulate, even "theologically incorrect" faith.

The Bible does encourage us to grow and mature in faith; Paul and also the author of Hebrews scold their congregations for remaining at rudimentary (and also unloving) stages of faith. Nonetheless, we should also affirm that God does not wait to respond to us until we’ve reach a certain spiritual stage. In fact, we might feel so overwhelmed that we have no idea what to say to God; our language breaks down entirely. During those times, the Spirit intercedes for us--that is, the Spirit prays for us (Romans. 8:26)!

All these thoughts, in turn, remind me of that old hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

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