Archive | July 2017

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.

 

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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.