When Carl Boberg wrote the hymn that we know as How great Thou art’ it was, I believe, written in Swedish. Some of the wonder and beauty of that hymn has survived in the English translation which is most widely used. Sadly, for me, some of that English version has unaccountably veered into a penal substitutionary mode. Having lost a son aged 22 I cannot sing verses which speak of a God as ‘great’ who has sacrificed his son. If this is how a ‘Father God’ behaves I want none of it. In addition it rides light to the incarnation, to God dying, Jurgen Moltmann’s crucified God.
I am aware of the theological gymnastics that people employ to get round this, but why when Atonement theories, are just that. Why not simply return to a translation that more clearly reflects Boberg’s original? Thanks to Hymnary.org for offering E. Gustav Johnson’s translation
When I behold His Son to earth descending,
to help and heal and teach distressed mankind;
When evil flees and death in fear is bending
before the glory of the Lord divine,
With rapture filled, my soul Thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God!
With rapture filled, my soul Thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God!
When, crushed by guilt of sin, before Him kneeling
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel His balm and, all my bruises healing,
He saves my soul and sets my heart at ease.
Author: Carl Boberg; Translator: E. Gustav Johnson
Translation by E. Gustav Johnson (1893–1974) From Hymnary.org http://www.hymnary.org/text/o_mighty_god_when_i_behold_the_wonder accessed 9/6/2014.
John Wesley once referred to the Methodists as ‘a peculiar people’. One of our peculiarities is treating September as the beginning of a New Year. At another level we live in a world in conflict and, in the UK with a government with a new Prime Minister. All of us together are faced with decisions. At a time of decision for the people of Israel Moses challenged them – ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live’. (Deuternomy30: 19) The following hymn asks what choosing life might mean for us today. 1 What are the gifts we would treasure most highly: freedom or justice or money or wealth; food for the hungry, or drink for the thirsty, love for our children, or power, or health? 2 Once God had given a choice to the people: they could decide to choose life or choose death. They were encouraged towards life's enhancement, shunning the ways that would quench life and breath. 3 What does it mean for ourselves at this moment, challenged by God, as to what we should choose? What does ‘life’ mean, for each friend, for each neighbour, what will encourage and never abuse? 4 Now at each crisis, each time of decision, save us from selfishness, things that oppress; help us, O God, to be wise, never grasping, help us to cherish those things you would bless. Andrew Pratt (born 1948) Words © 2011 alt by the author 2022 © Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd. alt 2022 by the author. Metre: 11 10 11 10 Tune: EPIPHANY HYMN
I sometimes wonder if we, as Christians, haven’t got it all wrong, or at least we’re focussing on the wrong thing. When I was studying biology we sometimes used microscopes, homing in on ever smaller things, an insect or the cells of a leaf. One lecturer reminded us, obvious really, that if you didn’t know which plant the leaf was from or where the insect lived you didn’t have a full picture. More to the point, you could be way off the mark in terms of any conclusions you drew.
I think we have sometimes made the same mistake with our faith. We have the whole of the Bible So let’s begin there. Think of a long bookshelf with a bookend at each end.
‘In the beginning, the earth was without form and void’. At the other end… ‘a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away’. It seems that, even in the understanding of the writers of Genesis and Revelation earth had a beginning and an end. I have an insatiable curiosity. Always have had and I’ve not grown out of it. The James Webb telescope points, not just into the distance, but back in time. The universe is older than the earth, it seems, much older. Light takes a long time to reach us from things that are further away. It strikes me, that as humanity, we are perhaps just a little arrogant. Biblically we begin with the earth. While that’s an old perspective it can limit our thoughts.
The same is true at the other end… Revelation talks of the old earth passing away…so do today’s prophets, perhaps in a different way? – David Attenborough…puts the fault at our door. There is talk of the end of the world, apocalypse. But let’s think on a bit. My sense of global warming is not that the earth will end, but that an awful lot of life on earth will end, including us. Focuses the mind just a little? Should do anyway?
Where does Jesus fit into all of this. For the moment I have no personal knowledge of life before I was born, even less of space before the earth formed. I’m content with scientific findings but they can, and do change. As to the afterlife I don’t doubt it, but humanly I’m agnostic as to its nature.
So, as I was musing, what of Jesus?
Ask people outside the church what is important about our beliefs. They know about Christmas and Easter and little else. In short-hand Christmas says that God is so intimately concerned with us as to live with us, some of the Biblical language sounds like ‘tent’ with us. Then God’s humanity – Jesus – here on earth – is temporary. Yet still we emphasise birth and death, beginning and end, bookends. Is it not time to re-adjust our focus and read the books that come between, the Life of Jesus? What can that teach us? The most important things that we can ever learn about being human, I believe. For us birth is self-evident – we are alive! And last Monday I was at a funeral – so is death. So rather than stressing the obvious would it not be best to learn from God in Jesus how to live between the book-ends of life?
There was something before the earth and there will be after, before us and after, but, as Sydney Carter once said ‘show me the good news in the present tense’! And the bottom line is, I believe this, everyone who met the human Jesus went away better for the meeting. That’s not to say they felt better – Jesus criticised bigotry and hypocrisy, but he lived love. If we hear criticism we can be better for the learning… what is significant is to find out all we can of Jesus grace, self-giving, joy, love, kindness and honesty, and to quote him, ‘go and do likewise’. That won’t, in itself stop global warming, nor postpone our death, but while we are here together, stewards of this earth, lent to us for a life-time, life will be better all round if we treat others as Jesus did, with love. Not a wishy washy love but a love that cares for our neighbours now, and the neighbours that come after us. It Involves us and those WE delegate to govern us. Christianity Is not above politics. But It should point us to choices which are not driven by self-Interest but the Interests of those with whom we live from day to day, with those with whom we share this planet and to those who Inhabit It when we are dead. This learning to live is the essence of being a disciple, a learner of Christ. It is always far more about what we do and how we live, than what we claim to believe., more abut the here – the only earth we know – than the hereafter.
Hiroshima Day Poem – Hiroshima Day is designated as August 6th
This can be used as a responsive prayer
As we remember holocaust,
in horror disbelieving
the history of the human race,
we share each other’s grieving;
God purge us of hypocrisy,
of all our self-deceiving.
Our language is inadequate,
unfit for the expression
of hatred that we visualise,
we hurry headlong into hell,
we witness love’s regression.
The deepest, distant agony
that throbs through all creation,
the silent tears that quietly fall
in every generation,
are signs of our humanity,
our need for re-creation.
God give us strength to make a pledge
to move beyond contention,
to see, in each, humanity.
Through greater good intention,
God, move us toward a purer love,
a gracious intervention.
Andrew E Pratt
Words © 2003 © Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England email@example.com . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.