Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: So Easy …

You know, it’s easier to destroy something than it is to build it. One can spend hours working on a sand castle at the beach, and one good wave, one careless jogger, or one tyrannical child, who just has to knock your turrets over, can set you back hours. Fortunately, it’s just a sand castle, so you can take it with a grain of salt. Or a grain of sand.

But what about things that are not just fun, kind of artsy but not deeply meaningful things. I mean it only took the 9/11 terrorists minutes to destroy the World Trade Center, something it took a long time to build. And it took them just seconds to rip families apart and put America in a defensive posture when it comes to national security. That one act of destruction took away a lot of freedoms—ease of going through airports, the feeling of relative safety in traveling, what you can carry on or can’t carry on a plane. To say that things really changed after 9/11 would be an understatement, without doubt.

So it is with anything good, I suppose. It takes so much work to build it and so much care goes into it; and, yet, it can be derailed, hindered and even destroyed in so short a time. But it is not easy to change things. Take the Our Father, for example. Many want to change it to “Our Parent,” others to our Mother. Some want to change “Amen” to “Awomyn” (sic). Yet Pope Francis, of late, has actually made a change. He has stated that the English phrase in the Our Father, rendered “Lead us not into temptation,” is now to be changed to “Do not let us fall into temptation.” His argument is that it is a mistranslation of the original. And he can say this convincingly for two reasons: 1. He is the Pope, and 2. Very few Christians, Protestant or Catholic, know ancient Greek, so they will take his word for it.

Let me say first that the Pope is not “diabolical.” He is not seeking to destroy, when he makes this change, he is, undoubtedly seeking to shift the blame for sin to the individual who falls into temptation so that person can’t shake a finger at God and say, “You allowed this to happen to me! You caused this to happen to me!” And good for the Pope; he’s right on that score; human beings need very little help to be tempted. But just because he is right about that doesn’t justify changing the translation.

Why? Well, for starters, the Greek simply doesn’t permit it. The Greek says what it says: μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς (me eisenengkes hemas). That does not mean “do not let us fall.” It means, rather, “do not lead us.” Hence the KJV (which is usually the most faithful English translation): “Lead us not.” It is the second person singular aorist active subjunctive form (here used in precatory mode) of the Greek verb εἰσφέρω (eisphero).

Why then, if the Pope knows ancient Greek (and one presumes he does), would he change this? It is for a theological reason bigger than the one that I outlined above. It has to do with one’s view of God, whether He is active in our lives or not. In the 1970s, it would seem, Pope Francis (then Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio) was opposed to the theology that says “God’s in his Heaven and all that is wrong in the world depends on us to fix”—this kind of theology has translated rather neatly into liberation theology. The fundamental point here is not Marxism vs. Capitalism, for both systems can thrive very well with the distant view of God.

Yet, by the end of the 1970s, something has changed for Father Bergoglio. He seems to have come to a different position on God intervening in human affairs, a view that is reflected today in his change of the verse to, “Don’t let us fall into temptation,” which assumes that God is distant, rooting us on but not intervening in our lives. It is a wonderful view of God, one could argue, because it exculpates God completely from the question of human suffering. God doesn’t allow human suffering. That’s something we cause, in the case of a war or terrorism, or nature causes (in the case of an earthquake), or maybe bad genetics has caused, in the case of an abnormality at birth. God is rooting us on, but He cannot (according to something by which even God Himself is bound, something like Star Trek’s “prime directive”) interfere. And that can explain, probably does explain, the Pope’s changing the English translation of the verse.

The only problem is—beyond the Greek, which I hopefully have already explained—that this Star Trek God is not the God of Scripture. Not even close. God has no directives, prime or otherwise. He makes the rules and He breaks them whenever it suits Him. Exempli gratia: Lazarus. God had decreed that the penalty for sin is death. It was and is an eternal decree upon human kind for sin. Yet Jesus, qua his status as the Son of God (status that is, if you read the New Testament, tantamount to God himself), resuscitates Lazarus from the dead. He does the same thing to the son of a widow whom he has presumably just met when, rather randomly from our human point of view, he enters the tiny hamlet of Nain. He heals the blind, helps an old woman who is a hunchback, heals the crippled, cares for the poor. He even cares for the rich, who at first might be unfeeling and disconnected from the suffering all around them. And he does miracles in the midst of all these people. And he does miracles today. When we see them, some of us acknowledge them, some of us attribute them to coincidence or luck. And some acknowledge them as miracles when they happen but, eventually, consign them to our memory’s bin of lucky breaks or coincidences.

Cobh St. Colman’s Cathedral, Ireland
Detail Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain
Photo by Andreas F. Borchert (CC BY-SA 4.0)

And how we react to divine intervention in the human sphere is important for the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. For, if we, as apparently Pope Francis does, believe that God intends good for everyone but doesn’t actually do good beyond the natural “common grace” of amatory love, love of family, sunshine and rain, then he simply can’t lead us into temptation (or, really, deliver us from evil, by the way). He is the Star Trek God. He simply can’t intervene, ever. Thus, it depends on us to take matters into our own hands, to be responsible for our own actions, and, ultimately, even for our own deliverances in this world. That is the groundwork, by the way, of liberation theology, where “liberation” means “self-liberation”: we need to free ourselves from our oppressors. It depends on us.

Oddly enough, most people, wittingly or unwittingly, probably subscribe to this way of thinking. Why wouldn’t one, after all? Things certainly seem to be that way—that’s reality, isn’t it? Isn’t believing that there is a God who intervenes in our lives just pie in the sky?

Rather, it’s pie on earth. And it’s not pie. It’s the God of Wonders, the God who makes the rules—all the rules—and “breaks” them whenever He feels like it, intervening, changing, shaping, leading. Sometimes leading us into places that are dangerous to us, whether physically or spiritually, or both. Fiery furnaces. Lions’ dens. Islands with dangerous snakes. If you’re unsure about any of this, just read the book of Daniel, where God tampers with the animal world, or the book of Acts. Or First and Second Samuel, where you can learn to face the giants in your life the right way. Or any of the four gospels where you can learn something I don’t know how to describe in one word; maybe just life, for short. Finally, and perhaps most poignantly, read the book of Hosea, where a woman of questionable character becomes a signally redemptive metaphor for the Church.

It’s easy to destroy, and so hard to build. But the God of Wonders is subject to neither, as his compassion for the lost shows again and again. Whether we have fallen into temptation (entirely possible) or He has heard our prayer and not led us there, know this: God redeems where we have so easily destroyed, he rebuilds where we have accidentally (or not) knocked something over, and he forgives when we cry out to Him for forgiveness. For he does stuff; and for that I, for one, am deeply thankful.

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