Come Close And Bend An Ear

Yesterday, while sitting nearly entirely alone on the front row after having returned from teaching my Sabbath School class [1], I witnessed a sermon that was both thought-provoking on an intellectual, and deeply emotional in its presentation. Both aspects, the passion and the reason of the message, are worthy of some commentary, which I will give as best as I am able. Towards the end of the message the pastor of our congregation choked up in obvious emotion when reflecting upon the most intense of prayers about the health struggles of one of his adorable grandchildren, and the sincerity of his own sadness at the difficulties faced by the child was obvious to see. It was clear that he, like any decent parent or grandparent, would have been willing to take upon himself any burden or suffering in place of the suffering of an innocent child, and had poured out his own wishes for the child’s well-being as incense before our heavenly Father, prayers that he waited to be answered. Being the sort of person who is moved to great compassion upon understanding the burdens that are faced by others, I pondered whether to give him a sympathetic touch on the shoulder or upper arm, but being concerned that such a gesture of compassion would cause offense and misunderstanding, and given my native mistrust of my instincts to give affection, and the knowledge of the difficulties that have resulted even from giving words of compassion and commiseration, I said and did nothing, not wishing to make an awkward scene, and the moment passed.

One of the most heartfelt prayers ever given by King David was for God to have mercy on his young son as a result of his adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of his loyal soldier Uriah the Hittite. This period of intense prayer and fasting is told in 2 Samuel 13:15-23: “Then Nathan departed to his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them. Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, “Indeed, while the child was alive, we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He may do some harm!” When David saw that his servants were whispering, David perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.””

A different heartfelt prayer of David, or perhaps the same period, is found in Psalm 6:1-7: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; o Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled; but You, O Lord—how long? Return, O Lord, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks? I am weary with my groaning; all night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows old because of all my enemies.” In both of these prayers we see the passionate nature of David, who felt deeply the suffering and trials of life that came about because of his own sins and his own unrighteousness, and he was keen on not letting other people suffer as a result of his own wickedness, and also greatly desirous that God would show mercy on him, as indeed He did. There is no question that David was a man familiar with the deepest prayers of supplication, as he describes the sort of behavior that such prayers involve, prayers that last a long time, pouring out one’s sorrow and grief of heart before God, private and intense prayers full of anguish and suffering. I have often regretted that I am familiar with such prayers myself, for I have considered them the result of some great misfortune that has led me to suffer deeply [2]. Far too often I have spent sleepless nights tormented by grief or suffering, pouring out my heart before God, seeking reconciliation with God and with other people, seemingly to no avail.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the sermon message yesterday was the examination of four Greek words in the New Testament for four different types of prayers. For example, the four words, in ascending order of passion and intensity, were given as follows: eroteo, paraklaeho, deomai, and proseuchomai. Our pastor noted that these words were all translated as prayer in the Bible, and expressed a wish that there would be more words in English for prayer to match the different semantic domains of the words in the Greek New Testament. Yet there are such words in English that serve as equivalents to these Greek words, words like request, beseech or invocation, petition, or supplicate. Indeed, we could not fully understand the semantic domain that was present in English unless we had some way of defining the word with one or more English words. There is a big difference between there being words that are more accurate and precise translations of Greek and Hebrew words and those words being used by translators or understood by believers. Perhaps it would be better for us, if we wished to understand the Bible, to be at least familiar enough with the actual Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words in the scriptures to use lexicons and understand the roots of those words so that we could grasp the meaning, and some idea of how precise or broad the meanings meant, while we wrestled with the context. Yet at the same time there is a great unwillingness on the part of people to be limited by their understanding of biblical languages to engage in exegesis and interpretation, and there are often anti-intellectual tendencies against those who seek or demonstrate that knowledge, and a desire not to make understanding the Bible a narrow task for a scholarly elite. Since English has 800,000 words or so, give or take a hundred thousand, there are plenty of precise words that we could use in translations if we so chose. That said, the widespread tendency is for oversimplification in general speech, given declining standards of literacy, even as there is a proliferation of specialized jargon understood only by insiders to particular fields, which creates barriers between a precise language used by specialists that is entirely impenetrable to those with only basic levels of understanding. To put it more bluntly, there is a growing divide between a few people who understand and comfortably use big words with very precise meanings, people like myself, and a great mass of people whose language and understanding is very simple and correspondingly vague and imprecise and superficial, since deep understanding requires communication that is able to distinguish and combine from and into categories, like the different categories of prayer, for instance.

My concern is that this sort of thought process makes me worry that I am an intellectual snob in that I care deeply about intellectual precision and strive to demonstrate it in my own writing and discourse. The fact that I furiously wrote down the Greek words used by my pastor and their English equivalents, and that I appreciated the desire to have a deeper understanding of prayer and different purposes and types of prayer that were appropriate in different contexts might be part of a larger aspect of my own nature that is held against me. At times intellectual interests can be viewed as dangerous, witness the case of the professor on an airplane flight who was suspected of nefarious deeds merely for showing an interest in doing mathematics for fun. Would doing some sudoku puzzles or coming up with a clever sonnet or reading Euclid’s geometric proofs or the excellent political philosophy of Harry Jaffa be something that would be held against someone like myself? Do I face more limited opportunities because of concerns that my flamboyant intellect is a demonstration of arrogance in my God-given braininess? These things I wonder, without profit.


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Come Close And Bend An Ear

  1. Pingback: Don’t Let Go | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Waiting For The Train | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: A Memorial Of The Blowing Of Trumpets | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Your Word Is A Lamp To My Feet And A Light To My Path | Edge Induced Cohesion

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