Thursday, 19 May 2016

Let's not hurl, by Veronica Zundel

On Ascension Day recently I attended a service based around a very impressive performance of Bach's Cantata 43,  'Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen' (God goes up with rejoicing). The service sheet contained the original German with a parallel translation - which, however, was not as impressive as the playing and singing. When we got to the alto aria, the German had these words:

'Ich sehe schon im Geist,
 Wie er zu Gottes Rechten,
 Auf seine Feinde schmeisst'

which were translated as:

'I see already in spirit
how he hurls God's righteousness
at his enemies'.

Now those of you with any German will immediately spot that this is a total mistranslation. 'Zu Gottes Rechten' does not mean 'God's righteousness' but 'at God's right hand'. So the correct translation would be 'I see already in spirit how at God's right hand he smites his enemies'. But this translation error got me thinking. How often are we guilty in our speaking or  writing of 'hurling God's righteousness' at those we assume to be God's enemies?  Much preaching, for instance, appears to be aimed at the thick-skinned who need battering with the ram of their sinfulness. I wonder how many of those are actually present in our congregations?

Last week, for instance, I went to a church where the main import of the sermon seemed to be 'We ought to be full of thankfulness every day for the blessings God gives'. The trouble was, I was sitting next to a friend who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
following a horrific bereavement. She is physically incapable of feeling thankful every day. What is the use of 'hurling God's righteousness' at her? She is a Christian, she knows  God is righteous, what she doesn't know is how she is going to get through the next day.

But, you may say, the hurling (or more correctly, smiting) is directed at God's enemies, not God's wounded people. So tell me, who are those enemies?  Consider Ephesians 6:12: 'For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places'. God's enemies, and ours, are the forces that keep people bound in oppression, poverty, addiction, mental ill health. We are never to treat our fellow human beings as God's enemies. Yes, we are to witness to them, using (as St Francis said) words when necessary, but we are told in 1 Peter  3:15-16 to 'make your defence ... with gentleness and reverence'. Not a lot of scope for hurling there.

When we write of God's goodness, shouldn't we be making it attractive, rather than flinging it at people to demonstrate their sinfulness? Yes, making goodness attractive in writing is a difficult task. We all know how Milton unwittingly made Satan a more interesting character than God. Yet that task can be done: I think C S Lewis does it in Aslan, and J K Rowling, for all her faults of style (she should have had a better editor) does it in Dumbledore. Let's do more enticing and less hurling.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at


  1. Great post. It certainly made me think. We are often guilty of hurling when we should be compassionate. Very well said.

  2. Oh, yes, yes, yes, Veronica. Forgive me if I'm repeating myself (which I am, but there are some who may not have heard) God's commission to me 30 years ago was to 'comfort others with the comfort I've received' i.e. divorce, debt, daughter's drug addiction and death. That still holds true, but he now tells me to 'entertain your readers so that they will absorb truths (by osmosis) which they might otherwise resist.'

  3. 'Hurling' is also used as a slang term for vomiting, which I guess says it all.

  4. So true. And hard not to ever do, if we're honest. Must try and look at our offerings with fresh eyes every time. Not easy. Great post.