It is always fascinating when one comes to expressions that are elegant and short in one language and that do not have any equivalent in other languages. Given that language is meant to convey truths from one mind and heart to another, it is striking when languages have expressions that do not translate except roughly into other languages. This indicates that for some reason there is a need for something to be expressed in a certain context that is not always present in other contexts, and suggests the desirability of investigating that language further and the context in which it developed. Let us take, for example, the Portuguese expression which which I began this discussion: não dà? The expression literally means, “Does it go?” Obviously, though, it means a lot more, from “Is it possible,” to “Is it allowed,” and that such a short expression carries with it a variety of simultaneous senses suggests that there was a serious need to know if something was possible, appropriate, and permissible, and any language that needs to know these things is going to develop ways of communicating that in an easy way.
One of the more interesting Bible passages to me over the course of the past few months in terms of its surprising relevance has been Acts 16:6-7: “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” One might wonder how it is that the Spirit would forbid someone going into a certain place and preaching and spreading the word. In a year like 2020, though, it is pretty clear how exactly the Spirit may forbid such things, through what is permitted and what is allowed in given circumstances. Most years people take the freedom of travel for granted, but that is not the case this year because of pandemic fears. And in a world like the Roman world it might have been made clear through the failure of logistical plans like Paul was wont to make that God did not wish to permit or allow a particular trip at a particular time. The will of God can be made clear through the permissive will that one is allowed, and a sensitive and alert person will be aware of that which is allowed and that which is forbidden and respond accordingly.
Depending on what sense one means, something can be possible but not appropriate. This comes up surprisingly often in messages that we have been hearing at church in one way or another. It may seem odd for such a subject to be so commonly thought of, but something that ubiquitous in our thinking cannot be accidental. The times really drive such concerns. We live in times where the appropriate response to burdensome and not particularly effective efforts at public health suggestions and mandates and rules of dubious legality is not always clear. What is more clear is that the Bible requires respect for authority and that believers avoid behavior that would mark them as seditious or rebellious. This is by no means a straightforward or easy task. We frequently find ourselves strongly influenced by our background and our culture in ways that do not sit well with political quietism or the personal needs to blow off steam given the intense frustrations with the state of the present world and how things are looking. Still, the question of whether things are appropriate or possible always remains.