Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Is God Awesome or is He Terrible?

I was reading Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" from July 8, 1741 over at Christian Classics Ethereal Library yesterday at the same time as a friend sent a link to an article about how that sermon would not go over well in today's feel good Sunday morning church, and how perhaps part of the blame for the recent slaughter of children may be due to the elimination of the fear of God from the Church's message to the world.
"You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell. It is doubtless the case of some whom you have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you, and that heretofore appeared as likely to have been now alive as you. Their case is past all hope; they are crying in extreme misery and perfect despair;"
No, you probably didn't hear that preached last Sunday.

The various translations of the Bible have been a part of this problem as well. The Lectionary compounds the problem by deleting the harsh words of judgment in addition to the effects of the softened language seen in some translations.

I have been reading the KJV of the Bible this year, and as I do, I become more and more tuned into the deficiencies of the NRSV (which is the version used in our Episcopal church).

Psalm 47 (also found in other Psalms) came around the other day and the word "terrible" jumped out at me.

1 Clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph.

2 For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.

3 He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet.
King James Version (KJV)
I thought to myself, "Now that would not go over well with the pewsitters on a pleasant Sunday morning. I wonder how the NRSV puts it?" This is what we might hear today,

1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.

2 For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.

3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

An awesome God is indeed something that we should be terrified of, but unfortunately the word "awesome" in today's common vernacular does not carry any connotation that would instill in us a feeling akin to terror. A simple search at Sentence First turns up,
"...the word awesome means pretty good, great, cool, excellent, fine, exciting, quite interesting, not terrible, etc. It is often preceded by totally, or followed by dude, or both; and new variations arise constantly."

Of course, the modern connotation of the word "terrible" is something more like mean, cruel, or awful, and might be preceded by the name "Ivan", and that wouldn't work at all. Let me try a few variations,

For the Lord, the Most High, is totally awesomeis awful, is cool, is quite interesting, is pretty good, a great king over all the earth.

I am not sure what the solution is, and I have been trying to come up with a neologism that will combine Awesome and terrible into one word.

I don't think it is awesible.

All I can come up with is "Awerrible" which sounds a bit like a cockney version of "Horrible," and that won't work either.

How about "gnawsome"?

Reverend Fun - Gnawsome

 That's what you get, a feel good smile, when you try to please the crowd.

Instead of this,

"And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day!" Jonathan Edwards

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