Monday, January 18, 2010


I once promised that esoteric Greek posts would cease as soon as Greek boot camp ended in August, but I’ve already broken that promise several times. Now I break it again.

I stumbled on the word χαρα today in Philippians a verse or two after I had correctly identified the word χαρις as being “Grace” (non-readers of Greek, all you need to notice is that the words are identical at the beginning; Greek words change their endings depending on how they are used in sentences). I assumed it was a different form of the same word, and tried unsuccessfully to connect the words on any declension charts I could remember. Of course I was wrong, but only slightly: I was wrong because they are indeed different words, but only slightly wrong because they are etymologically related.

χαρα is the Greek word for “joy” or “delight,” and is related to χαρις, the Greek word for “grace.” Literally then, you could say that Grace, one of the most fundamental words to the Christian vocabulary, simply means joy-maker or delightfulness; in other pre-Christian contexts, it is often translated “sweetness.” This strikes me as quite different from the understanding of Grace I tend to have as being an abstract ideal involved in the cosmic matters of salvation. Somehow, the understanding of “sweetness” or “joy-makers” feels a bit more tangible and much warmer, and I wonder what it would do to my theology.

“Joy-makers to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”?
“It is by sweetness you are saved through faith”?

That amazing sunrise I saw on Saturday morning that brought me so much delight was a grace. That surprise meeting of an old friend, that bowl of Mom’s fantastic barley soup, that Sunday evening thunderstorm, that afternoon of throwing rocks on an icy pond with my nephews... these were all graces. The cosmic matters of salvation and the morning cup of hot tea are connected, and God’s grandiose dealings with humanity and his provision of a Sunday afternoon nap are part of the same motion.

It is by graces that we are saved.

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