Context: Yesterday I went into town to do a small amount of shopping and have my covid booster. It was diverting at the time, but afterwards I was absolutely exhausted. It can still sometimes come as a shock to realise how limited I am now in terms of what I can do.
After a long sleep in the afternoon, I tried to work on what I had been given when I woke up that morning. However, I was too tired to make any progress with it. So here is a prayer from my storehouse, instead:
“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36; NLT).
You came to do the Father’s will
Because you trusted in God’s name.
You wanted to forgive my sins, To heal my guilt, and end my shame.
So, Lord, you lived and died for me, Because you shared the Father’s aim:
To spread his love and tender care –
Please help me, now, to do the same.
Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same” (Luke 10:36-7; NLT).
Thywillbe done, onearthas it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10; RSV).
During an on-line conversation yesterday morning, a friend and I were discussing free will. I was praying in between reading and responding to their messages, and suddenly saw that when everyone freely chooses to do God’s will out of love, we will all live in heaven on earth.
Until that blessed day arrives, each of us can help the world to move towards it, by treating everyone with love, no matter how they behave towards us.
All this became much clearer in my mind when I was praying at bedtime: we can live in heaven on earth individually, and we can also live this way collectively. Free will means that the choice is ours.
When you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, offer it of your own freewill (Leviticus 22:29; NKJV).
Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ (Ephesians 5:2; NLT).
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind (Luke 10:27; NLT).
Love your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27; NLT).
Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).
Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).
Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:28; NLT).
Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Luke 23:34; NLT).
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them (Romans 12:9; NLT).
Do everything with love (1 Corinthians 16:14; NLT).
Whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17; NLT).
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4; NLT).
We have all sinned against you (Jeremiah 14:20; NLT).
Context: This is the last in a series of three blogs which arrived in rapid succession on the same morning. Whilst I was praying, I saw that everyone is my sister, my brother and my mother, and that every child is my child. God is within us all, so we all belong to one family, and we are all one. Jesus, of course, understood this long ago:
There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:32-5; NLT).
You’re my Sister and Brother, My Child and my Kin;
My Teacher, my Shepherd, My Saviour, my King;
My Mother and Father,
My Staff and my Rod,
For, living in all,
You’re my Lord and my God.
Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT).
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:28; NLT).
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40; NIV).
He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children (Psalm 113:9; CSB).
Context: This poem arrived after I watcheda TV programme about a man who brings up rescued sun-bear cubs in his home. He does this in order to save them from the cruel bear-bile industry.
Giving them all the loving care they need, he slowly, painstakingly rehabilitates each cub, introducing them to the world, just as their mother would have done. Eventually, the young bears graduate to a Wildlife Centre, where they have lots of space to express their natural behaviours and instincts, and to interact with other bears. The man’s constant purpose is to give these traumatised, motherless creatures a rich and satisfying life, which is exactly the same as Christ’s aim for us all (John 10:10; NLT).
Whilst praying without words, I saw that this man is like a mother-bear to the cubs, just as Jesus is like a mother to us all. No matter what damage we have sustained in life, Christ’s purpose is to heal and rehabilitate us, just like the man caring for the orphaned cubs:
I won’t leave you orphaned; I will come back to you. A little while now and the world will see me no more; but you’ll see me; because I live, and you will live as well. On that day you’ll know that I am in God, and you are in me, and I am in you (John 14:18-20; TIB).
We can’t see God, but the Bible is packed with vivid images, metaphors, similes, poems and parables which illustrate different aspects of what God is like. Here is just one example:
Go, inspect the city of Jerusalem. Walk around and count the many towers. Take note of the fortified walls, and tour all the citadels, that you may describe them to future generations. For that is what God is like (Psalm 48:12-14; NLT; my emphasis).
This verse is particularly useful, as it demonstrates the limitations of figurative language, as well as its richness. Such images are not meant to be taken literally. Rather, they are an invitation to meditate on the qualities of God they can reveal.
Then, when I had seen all this, these verses arrived:
God is love (1 John 4:8; NLT).
God is like a lion,
Like a tiger, Like a bear.
God is like an eagle,
Like a raven,
Like a dove.
God is like a keening,
Like a murmur, Like a plea.
God is like a father,
Like a mother: God is love.
God is like a mountain,
Like an ocean,
Like a storm.
God is like a day-star,
Like a comet,
Like a sun.
God is like a heartbeat,
Like a whisper,
Like a sigh.
God is like a father,
Like a mother: God is One.
God is one (Mark 12:32; NIV).
There is …one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all (Ephesians 4:5-6; TIB).
The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (Romans 8:26-7; TIB).
Context: As soon as I woke and started to pray today, this is what I saw:
Only God is worthy to be worshipped by all people, creatures and things.
God makes, maintains and ends them all.
God lives over, in and through them all.
God can never be destroyed.
God is the First and the Last: infinite and eternal.
God is Love.
Then, as soon as I began to worship, this little prayer arrived:
1. My Father, And my Mother;
2. Spirit: Sister;
3. Maker, Shepherd, Saviour, Lover:
4. You are all;
I want no other.
God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28; TIB).
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
(Psalm 23:1; NLT).
1. You are our mother and father, YHWH; we are the clay and you are the potter, we are all the work of your hands (Isaiah 64:8; TIB).
2. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister” (Proverbs 7:4; NIV).
God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Holy Spirit. She searches out all things, even the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10; TIB).
Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:35; NLT).
3. You cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things (Ecclesiastes 11:5; NIV).
The Lord is my shepherd (Psalm 23:1; NLT).
I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:3; NLT).
My lover is mine and I am his (Song of Songs 2:16; NLT).
4. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him (Philippians 3:8-9; NLT).
God has put all things under Christ’s feet and made Christ, as the ruler of everything, the head of the church, and the church is Christ’s body; it’s the fullness of the One who fills all of creation (Ephesians 1:22; TIB).
He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22; NKJV).
This is what the Lord says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God” (Isaiah 44:6; NLT).
Context: When I woke up yesterday, I said the Lord’s Prayer, closed my eyes again, and continued to pray, using very few words. This went on in darkness for some minutes, until I was suddenly flooded with bright, golden light. Then today’s prayer started to flow. It was a wrench to open my eyes and start writing, but I knew it was essential, for the words would otherwise disappear as quickly as they arrived.
My expectation is that only when I’m dying will I see this wonderful light and not need to break off to write. From that moment onwards there will be no more need for words: I will simply be absorbed into God’s brilliant, beautiful, infinite light, peace and love.
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. (Micah 7:8; NLT).
When I sit in darkness,
You re-fill me with your light,
And, when I am weak and weary,
You restore me with your might.
When I’m stressed and anxious,
You refresh me with your peace,
And, when I am judged and censured,
Your protection does not cease.
Spirit, When I’m sad and lonely,
You surround me with your love,
And, when I must leave this world,
You’ll bear my soul to heaven above.
Threefold God, My source, my goal,
My Father, Mother, kith and kin,
You are here, and live forever –
All around me, and within.
The Spirit of God has made me,
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
(Job 33:4; NLT).
The dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
(Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
(1 John 4:16; NIV).
God is greater than we can understand (Job 36:26; NLT).
Whatever I understand of you
Yet, always, I remain
Safe in your hand.
Wise father? Loving mother?
You just smile
And wait for me to learn.
You don’t berate,
For you are Yahweh:
God, so full of grace
That one day even I Will see your face.
Then, though I’ve been so slow,
My love, so small,
You will reveal YourSelf As Allinall.
God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28; TIV).
What you have done is put aside your old self with its past deeds and put on a new self, one that grows in knowledge as it is formed anew in the image of its Creator. And in that image, there is no Greek or Hebrew; no Jew or Gentile; no barbarian or Scythian; no slave or citizen. There is only Christ, who is all in all (Colossians 11:9-11; TIV).
Now, see for yourself that I am that God! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life; I wound and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand (Deuteronomy 32:39; TIV).
Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them (Genesis 1:27; TIV).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NKJV).
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together (Isaiah 40:5; NLT).
The LORD is like a father to his children.
(Psalm 103; 13; NLT).
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13; NIV).
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a father, safely guiding,
Like a mother, reconciling,
Like a teacher, gently chiding –
Now, and evermore.
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a potter, smoothly moulding,
Like a mentor, wisely scolding,
Like a comforter, enfolding –
Now, and evermore.
Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a pastor, interceding,
Like a doctor, caring, healing,
Like a pilgrim, sighing, pleading –
Now, and evermore.
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Romans 8:26-7; NRSV).
Reflections on Biblical translation
I’m often struck by how powerfully Biblical translations influence the thinking, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of their readers. The consequences of such effects can be positive or negative, both for the holder, and for those they relate to.
Below are four renderings of the quote which ends today’s blog. They illustrate how differently these verses can be translated in terms of the grammatically gendered pronouns used to refer to God’s Spirit. I have highlighted the relevant words for each quotation:
1. Neuter/masculine Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (KJV).
2. Masculine In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (NIV).
3. Feminine The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (TIV).
4. Inclusive The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (NRSV).
These four quotes illustrate significantly different ways of translating the original Greek text. All of them are justifiable, though the first three are incomplete. This is because the Greek word used for “Spirit” here is grammatically neuter, whilst its definite article (the) denotes feminine, masculine and neuter. Moreover, the reflexive pronoun translated as “Himself” in the second example, actually means he, she, it, they, them and same (Strong’s Greek).
The sheer breadth of meaning that needs to be compressed into a single pronoun here is stunning, and sadly the English language offers no easy way to express the extraordinary inclusivity of the Greek. The fourth quotation is the only one which manages this, by carefully using solely inclusive, non-gendered vocabulary.
I have great sympathy for translators faced with the challenge of trying to convey such complex meanings, especially as the decisions they make are also likely to be influenced by countless conscious and unconscious factors. Here I would include, for example, the conventions, attitudes and prejudices of their era regarding the ascribed roles and status of women and men. Each translator’s individual upbringing, education, training, experience and stage of faith development are also likely to play a part in the words they choose. So I don’t envy these brave souls, who carry a heavy burden of responsibility for how each reader understands, and responds to, every word they read in their chosen Biblical translation.
Acknowledgement All the grammatical information on which this discussion is based is taken from Strong’s Greek, which is publicly available, free of charge, via Blue Letter Bible, at: https://www.blueletterbible.org
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
(Psalm 63:1; NIV).
1. Father God, I seek you, Mother God, I greet you,
Mighty God, transcending all,
Your Spirit falls like dew.
2. Father, I adore you,
Mother, I implore you,
Spirit, intercede for me,
Forgive me, make me new.
3. Father, you defend me, Mother, you befriend me,
Spirit, plead within my soul
Till I am one with you.
4. Clouds and darkness hide you, Yet I walk beside you
In the light of your dear Son,
For Christ is shining through.
For you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.
(Malachi 4:2; NLT).
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12; NLT).
His face shone like the sun (Matthew 18:2; NIV).
1. Transcendent power belongs to God (2 Corinthians 4:7; RSV).
Your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people (Isaiah 26:19; NLT).
Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants (Deuteronomy 32:2; NLT).
2. The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (Romans 26:27; TIV).
3. Don’t you realise that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16; NLT).
So you also are complete through your union with Christ (Colossians 2:10; NLT).
4. Clouds and thick darkness surround him (Psalm 97:2; NIV).
He makes darkness his secret place, around him, his dwelling place, darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies (Psalm 18:11; LSV).
You are a God who hides (Isaiah 45:15; CSB).
Walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8; NLT).
Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:31; NLT).