The Power of Quotations

Way back in 1970, when I was writing my Ph.D. thesis, I had bought a book entitled “The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations”. The paperback edition was subsidised by the English Language Book Society and the price was 3 Rupees and 15 Paise. In those days, even that was not a small sum. The dictionary had over 16,000 quotations out of which about 1,000 quotations were surprisingly from the Holy Bible alone.

Over time, countless words have been spoken by wise people, and millions of words have been written. But it is strange that they are mostly forgotten and only a few are remembered. A quotation is a sentence that is worth recalling, that makes sense by itself even when taken out of context, and is not bound by the limits of space and time. By this definition, the Bible is an extremely quotable book.

Jesus Christ, whose statements recorded in the Bible are widely quoted, himself used quotations from the Old Testament while speaking. When the people asked if he were really the Messiah, he said, “the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead are raised… What more evidence did they need?” (Luke 7:19-22) He was only quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5)

When Jesus was being tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he did not resist him but just quoted God’s commandment from the scriptures: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Deuteronomy 6:13) The Devil had to flee.

And while suffering the agony of death on the cross, Jesus quoted a prayer from the Psalms: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)

Whether we have to confront someone with an argument, or have to battle against temptation, or are so distressed that we cannot compose our own prayer, we always have the Bible to quote from. Whenever my own mind is crowded with confusing and unwelcome thoughts, I quote this to myself: “In the multitude of my thoughts within me, your comforts delight my soul.” (Psalm 94:19)

When we quote from the Bible, we think and speak in God’s language. We do not have to explain. We are better understood. Our words become authoritative and powerful.

 

Sowing the Wind

How do cyclones and giant hurricanes develop in the tropical belt of the earth? Well, not out of nothing. They begin as a tiny vortex in the atmosphere above a warm ocean. The vortex takes in energy from the ocean and grows vertically and horizontally. In its fully mature stage, dense clouds of the hurricane may grow as high as 12 kilometres and its spiral bands may stretch across thousands of kilometres from its eye.

The initial vortex is so small that it may even go unnoticed on a weather chart that shows areas of high and low pressure. Meteorologists use numerical models to predict the development of a tropical cyclone. What they do is to introduce an artificial or “bogus” vortex into an otherwise benign looking atmospheric flow. Then they run the model for several days into the future and watch how the small disturbance grows into a violent storm. They can then predict what path the system will follow and how much strength it will gather.  Their predictions usually come correct and they can warn people in advance and save life and property.

The Bible uses the term “sowing the wind”. (Hosea 8:7) “If you sow the wind”, it cautions, “you will reap the whirlwind!” A violent storm indeed grows out of a small wind, but the reference to wind here is figurative. God’s law of sowing and reaping has a wider area of application far beyond the atmosphere. Just like a small wind will produce a great storm, one grain of wheat that is sown into the soil, is likely to yield an abundant harvest of wheat. Out of wheat we will get wheat, not some other crop.

“Sowing the wind” could be a phrase that is representative of empty, futile work. The result of such a hollow effort could never be expected to be anything concrete or tangible.

“Whatever a man sows, that is what he will reap,” is God’s law for all. “One who sows to his flesh, his sinful capacity, his worldliness, his disgraceful impulses, will reap from the flesh ruin and destruction, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-10)

In fact, in Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was originally written, there is only one word “pneuma” that means the wind as well as the spirit. The two are similar.

 

Living Entities

“The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years…”, sang Julie Andrews in the 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music”. And if the hills of Austria could live and sing, why not Indian rivers and glaciers? According to news reports, that has indeed happened just recently. The rivers Ganga and Yamuna and the glaciers associated with them have now become living entities and they are henceforth to be regarded as persons having human rights.

But this concept of life is not new. In the Bible, the author of Psalm 148 had exhorted not only human beings but all creation to express praise for God’s universal glory.

Praise the Lord!
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
Praise the Lord!

For God Almighty, all things created by him are living entities. They not only have rights but also responsibilities, one of which is to praise God!

God is Always Near Us

Those who believe in God cannot fail to notice his constant proximity and companionship in their daily lives. In fact, it is impossible for them to run away from him even if they ever wanted to. “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”, asked David who felt so overwhelmed by the all-seeing God. (Psalm 139:7) God himself has told his people that he will never leave them or forsake them. (Hebrews 13:5) Particularly in the day of trouble, God has invited his people to call upon him and he has promised to deliver them. (Psalm 50:15)

In spite of all these assurances, however, there comes a moment when we feel that we are in deep trouble for no fault of ours, but God is not at hand. He seems to be somewhere far away from us, perhaps turning his glance away from the scene, not responsive to our prayers, not visibly using his powers to protect us. Why the God of love should allow hate, injustice, violence, sorrow, and disaster in this world, is a question that has always left people baffled.

That is why the same David in another of his psalms had to pray, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out but you do not answer.” (Psalm 22:1-2) David’s prayer takes the form of a complaint that comes out of his anguish. It is a cry that gives vent to his bitter agony.

But David was not making a case for himself. He had a vision of Jesus before him and so he could end Psalm 22 on a greatly optimistic and victorious note. His prophecy was fulfilled when Lord Jesus, as he was dying on the cross, uttered exactly the same cry in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) The people around him did not understand him, while in fact he was praying on behalf of all humanity.

Jesus’ prayer did not go unanswered. It resulted in the gift of salvation for all humanity. God has not forsaken anyone. Through Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, God has been coming closer to us all and he is always near us.

 

 

Celebrating Darkness

Since 2007, Earth Hour is being observed worldwide on the last Saturday of March. The event is growing in popularity as more and more individuals, communities, households and businesses join the movement every year to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. local time. In 2017, Earth Hour will be observed on 25 March.

In the beginning, says the Bible, there was darkness. But God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light, and God saw that the light was good. (Genesis 1:1-5) In God’s scheme of creation, light came first, life came later. Without light, there cannot be life. No wonder that scientists and historians refer to the era of primitive human life as the dark ages.

But while the Old Testament documents the creation of light and its goodness, the New Testament makes the admission that human beings loved darkness rather than light! So God had to send his own son to give light and life to the world. (John 3:16-19)

Jesus spoke about himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He also wanted his enlightened followers to propagate that light. “You are the light of the world”, he said to them, “a city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

God’s desire was to have his creation illuminated by his light. If our present generation is celebrating darkness, there is perhaps a need to ponder over our priorities, directions and definitions of human life.