Ugh! It’s not even a word. And if it were, it would mean the exact opposite of what those who use it intend that it should mean.
I love words. I love playing with words, inventing new words, tweaking existing words, and using words in appropriate, albeit unusual ways.
I also love music. I enjoy listening to it, playing it, singing it, and even occasionally composing it.
This past weekend, I was able to combine my love of music and love of words through singing with the worship band at church and, during rehearsal, having a brief conversation about funny words and mangled language with our worship leader, Dallas, and one of our elders.
Dallas is a member of Toastmasters International. He was sharing a humorous anecdote from a recent Toastmasters meeting. Apparently, someone at the meeting used the term, “irregardless” and the world almost came to an end.
During the time of formal worship, Dallas spoke to the congregation about how much he loves being a part of this body of believers, and he struggled to articulate it as powerfully as he wanted to. Following the service, I told Dallas, “I think what you were trying to say is that the thing that makes this body of believers so unique is that nobody doesn’t fit here.”
While that is a shocking double negative, it is exactly what he was trying to say. There is no person, as wildly different and bizarre as we are, that does not fit in our church family. That is precisely what makes our gathering so wonderful.
God’s Promised Presence
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ – Hebrews 13:5, ESV
Believe it or not, there is a connection between that verse and the opening lines of this blog posting. On the face of it, we have an exhortation from the writer of Hebrews to refuse covetousness, the last of the ten commandments. We are to be content with what we have.
It also seems that, somehow, we are enabled, encouraged, or emboldened to resist coveting because of this promise of security in God’s presence. Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you. The idea is that the presence of God is such that the attraction of physical possessions loses its luster. Conversely, the love of tangibles can infect a believer in such a way that we become intensely dissatisfied with God’s wondrous provision.
What does not come through easily in English translation is the strength of what is said in this promise from God. Some translations come closer than others, but even they pale with weakness when compared to what the original Greek text actually says.
Here are some translations that get about as close as we can get in English:
for He hath said, ‘No, I will not leave, no, nor forsake thee,’ – Young’s Literal Translation
for he has said, “I will in no way leave you, neither will I in any way forsake you.” – World English Bible
for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee. – English Revised Version, also American Standard Version
Each of those is rather abrupt and difficult to read. If we lay it out literally from the Greek text, it reads like this:
“Never not you will I leave nor never not you will I forsake.”
In my statement to Dallas, I emphasized my point by employing a double negative to stress the positive, welcoming posture of our church family. “Nobody doesn’t fit here.” What God has said in Hebrews 13:5 is a double negative followed by a triple emphasized negative. It is as though God is super-mega-stressing his point, “I will not … I will not leave you,” followed by “I will never … never … never abandon you.”
I believe this phrasing is intentionally mirrored in the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” Note the double negative followed by the triple negative in verse five.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes.
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
The term “forsake” (εγκαταλιπω) carries the idea of provision. God is strongly emphasizing that he will never leave us alone in a state of utter hopelessness. Challenging? Perhaps. Difficult? Undoubtedly. But, never hopeless. Since that is true, we have no need to covet anything from anyone.
God’s Reputation on the Line
Note the phrase, “He has said,” or in some translations the Greek intensive mode is translated, “He himself has said.” Either way, God’s reputation is on the line. He said it, and he must stand behind what he says. “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” (Matthew 5:37) Do what you say you will do, and be where you say you will be.
The message of God’s presence and provision is consistent throughout scripture.
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. – Genesis 28:15, NASB
Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6, NASB
The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. – Deuteronomy 31:8, NASB
No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. – Joshua 1:5, NASB
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9, NASB (One of my favorite verses)
Then David said to his son Solomon, ‘Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished.’ – 1 Chronicles 28:20, NASB
And how can we not include the beautiful promise from Jesus at the close of Matthew’s gospel? I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20, NASB
Given the truth of God’s faithful presence, it is entirely appropriate that the next verse in Hebrews reads…
So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’ – Hebrews 13:6, ESV